A planned expansion and modernization of Grace Hospital's emergency department has been delayed by three years, the Free Press has learned.
The news comes amid reports of cramped working conditions in the hospital's emergency department along with high staff turnover and low employee morale.
In March 2011, seven months before the last provincial election, Premier Greg Selinger announced a $22-million upgrade for the department. It was the only city hospital emergency facility not to have undergone a major refurbishment in recent years.
Construction was to have begun in 2013 after two years of planning. The $22-million project was originally slated for completion next year.
But the project has been delayed by concerns over the proposed site of the new ER, cabinet spokeswoman Jodee Mason said Friday. Construction is now set to begin in 2016, she said, which means the new facility won't be in service until 2018.
Mason declined to elaborate on the causes of the delay for fear of contravening the Election Financing Act, which prevents certain government statements during a voting period. By-elections in the constituencies of Morris and Arthur-Virden are being held Jan. 28.
A Grace Hospital employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in an interview the institution's emergency room suffers from severe overcrowding due to cramped conditions. "Pretty much all of the time, there's stretchers in the hallway," the staffer said.
In 2011, the Free Press reported overcrowding was so bad in the hospital's ER, patients' privacy was being compromised. When the government announced a bigger ER for the Grace, a news release noted visits to the hospital's emergency room had increased by 18 per cent over the previous year.
The west Winnipeg hospital has been in the spotlight since two men died in late December in separate incidents after being sent home by the emergency department in taxicabs. Both collapsed in the frigid cold just short of their doorsteps.
"The Grace Hospital emergency department is in a bit of a mess," the hospital employee said.
Morale is very low at the hospital, particularly after the two tragic incidents. But working conditions in the department had already caused several people to seek work elsewhere in the hospital or at other institutions, the source said.
High staff turnover has led to a shortage of experienced nurses in the ER. In some cases, nurses have occasionally been required to perform tasks, including triage, for which they don't feel qualified to perform, the employee said.
Staff are also troubled that when they fill out incident or 'occurrence' reports on problems observed on the job, there is no apparent followup by management. "We don't hear anything back," the source said.
Officials with the Manitoba Nurses Union could not be reached Friday for comment.
Asked for a response to concerns about crowding, staff turnover and morale at the Grace, a Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spokeswoman said by email the region "continue(s) to be concerned about the lengths of stay (by patients) in the emergency department at Grace Hospital as long stays can lead to overcrowding."
Bronwyn Penner-Holigroski said the ratio of nurses to patients at the Grace ER "is higher than in many other parts of the country."
"We have seen continuing improvement in staff turnover and a reduction in the vacancy rate such that staffing in the (department) over the past year has been more stable than in the past," she said, noting the hospital's ER has only two equivalent full-time (EFT) vacancies and 2.75 maternity leave vacancies out of a complement of 32.2 EFTs.
"There may be particular shifts where the mix of staff experience is such that all nurses on shift may not have the combined experience that another shift may have," Penner-Holigroski said.
"In these situations, the charge nurse would take over primary responsibilities of triage and any newer nurse would assist the charge nurse in assessment and reassessment of patients in the waiting area."