Dr. Chandy Jacob, simply known as "Doctor Jacob" to many, has seen healthcare advance and adapt in the Pembina Valley for over 50 years. In that time he's personally seen the team of local doctors grow from four to 45 in Winkler.
His half-century of experience began in the late '60s. At that time, Jacob was a driving force for collaboration between health care practitioners in Winkler and Morden.
"Winkler doctors didn't talk to Morden doctors... they didn't work together when I came," he says.
Being a surgeon Jacob was referred patients from both communities and, slowly, he was able to bridge the gap.
"I made the motion in Winkler, but the health care board was tied, four against, and four in favour."
In the end, the chairperson voted in favour and the two small communities began working more closely together.
"Doctor C.W Wiebe later said it was a good thing to work with Morden... Jim Menzies was always for it, working together. They all changed their mind in the end."
In 1972, the Province released a study on medical care in Manitoba with the suggestion of establishing more regional hospitals so fewer people have to travel to Winnipeg. Even now, Jabob says, 54 percent of rural Manitobans' care is provided in Winnipeg. He adds it's obvious to see how the travel costs quickly become a burden on rural residents.
"I call it a user fee for rural people," he says, noting older patients may even decline treatment because of the difficulty and expense of travelling.
While the 1972 study was supported by all political parties and medical associations, "they didn't do much about it," Jacob says.
However, when both Morden and Winkler began working on the idea of a regional hospital in 1975, Jacob says the key was attracting specialists to the rural area. While he admits the dream that became Boundary Trails Health Centre in 2001 was perhaps the biggest advancement in health care in the Pembina Valley, Jacob says it wasn't everything they originally imagined.
"We finally got a regional hospital, but it wasn't exactly what they promised," he says. "The first hospital was ready for tender, but it had 20 more beds, it had four operating rooms. They cut it down to three and reduced the number of beds."
Looking back, Jacob says the concessions made are unfortunate especially seeing the growing area BTHC serves. Even now, he says the region is feeling the pinch of the scaled-back facility. The hospital has consistently delivered approximately 1,000 children a year though it was originally only designed for 500.
Moving forward, Jacob says attracting more specialists remains key to improving quality healthcare and the growing the communities themselves. He began his work in Winkler as the sole specialist in the area, now there are ten.
"Winkler was a small town in those days, but the growth of the region is due to industry and medical care, people will move if there's a good hospital here," he says.
Though Jacob had many opportunities to move to a larger centre himself, he says he preferred "a quieter place," and even enjoyed the sometimes challenging role of advocating with the government for health care investments.
After a half-century in the field, Jacob's tried and true mantra remains, if you add more services in the rural areas people benefit and the government saves money, "providing specialist care in a regional centre is not only better service for people, the government saves money because the cost is less than providing the same service in the city... we're not asking for the moon, but add some services outside Winnipeg."
"People need to speak up, we deserve better care," he says, adding while doctors have some weight when it comes to advocacy, the public has the true political power.
And he says more specialists, like himself, are interested in settling outside urban areas. "If you put the services here, the specialists will move here... but people need to ask for it."
Jacob celebrated 51 years serving Winkler and area this year.