The family of a woman who died in Steinbach last month says the local hospital informed them it was not able to honour their mother's wish to be an organ donor. Southern Health has confirmed this is a common occurrence. Dr. Denis Fortier, Vice-President of Medical Services, says the simple fact is that rural hospitals and doctors are largely not set up or trained to accommodate most organ donations, something that is quite complex.

"We do have rural physicians who are able to assist with organ donations specific to the eye. When we get into more complicated scenarios, hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, those kinds of things, there are so many complicating pieces to this that it really does take a team. And, that's really the only way this is going to work into the future, is to have a specialized organ donation team who can, at a moment's notice, mobilize."

For now, Dr. Fortier says it is unlikely that people who die at rural hospitals will have their wishes honoured if they have pledged to donate their organs.

"If a person wishes to donate their organs but passes away in rural Manitoba, that is already a fairly big challenge. Multiply that several times for every kilometre you are away from Winnipeg. So yes, if you or your loved one passes in rural Manitoba, our ability to honour 100% of your request is limited at this point in time. We are working on that, I just want to stress that we are working on that."

But he adds efforts to improve the capability of organ donation in rural areas have suffered a setback.

"This is something that has been in discussion for a number of years. I think with health transformation sort of owning the headlines these days, that particular project has been put on the side burner for the time being. But, Organ Donation Canada and Organ Donation Manitoba very much want to increase rural Manitoba's ability to donate organs."

Dr. Fortier says while the current inability to harvest organs in rural Manitoba may discourage many would-be donors, it is still important that people sign organ donor cards because there is no way of knowing where a person will die and there is always a chance their organs can be harvested. He also remains hopeful that the system will get better.

"I think we are inching ever closer to having a very comprehensive plan to harvest tissue."