Shouting "Care not cuts!" and "Put patients first!" about 500 members of the Manitoba Nurses Union and other labour supporters voiced their displeasure Wednesday with the provincial government's plan to eliminate three city hospital emergency rooms.
ER nurses and intensive care nurses are some of the workers most affected by the proposed changes announced earlier this month by the province and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
The noon-hour rally in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building was the largest and most boisterous protest yet against the hospital reorganization plan.
MNU president Sandi Mowat said her message to Premier Brian Pallister is don't balance the province's books on the backs of patients.
The closure of the ERs at Concordia Hospital, eliminating urgent care from Misericordia's mandate and converting the ERs at Seven Oaks and Victoria hospitals to urgent care facilities threaten patient care, she said.
"Call it what it is, these are frontline service cuts. You've broken your promise and nurses won't stand for it," she said, referring to the premier.
Members of the MNU were joined by representatives of several other unions and labour organizations, including the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Unifor, the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals and the Manitoba Teachers Society.
Mowat said afterward it is difficult to say how many nursing positions will be eliminated due to the cuts. Emergency rooms and intensive care units at Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital will have to be beefed up to make up for the elimination of services elsewhere.
The WRHA expects to save more than $30 million from the hospital reorganization plan in the coming year.
Concordia Hospital's ER is to close entirely and will not be replaced by an urgent care centre. The MNU fears the 57 ER nurses at Concordia won't be able to find ER jobs elsewhere. Neither will the ICU nurses at the hospital.
The MNU has not met with the WRHA since the April 7 hospital reorganization announcement, Mowat said.
"They've committed to share information as it becomes available. The last I heard they were still working on the operational plan," she said.
Meanwhile, MNU members have been working without a contract since March 31. No contract talks have yet been scheduled, Mowat said.