A look into the management jobs chopped as part of massive restructuring in health care sheds light on the effects of the Pallister government’s austerity measures.
Records obtained by the Free Press show a manager of patient safety, two positions related to mental health and a director of long-term care are all casualties.
In a province that has struggled to deal with the public health ramifications of tuberculosis, a supervisor for TB management has been axed. And in a jurisdiction with some of the highest rates of kidney disease in the country, a position related to the management of renal care was cut.
While the list of cuts is incomplete, it remains the only insight available into the effect of a provincial government edict to slash 15 per cent of management jobs within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority as part of broader public-sector belt-tightening.
NDP health critic Matt Wiebe said the cuts appear to be arbitrary, without consideration of their effect on patients.
"How can they claim that they are making the system more effective when they’re cutting people who support patient flow and patient safety?" he asked Wednesday.
Improving the flow of patients through hospitals is considered a critical component of reducing wait times for certain procedures and speeding up emergency room care.
Patient safety has been an ongoing concern, with the Health Department recording dozens of critical incidents in its quarterly reports.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority recently eliminated 132 management jobs after being ordered to do so by the provincial government. It resulted in 73 managers being laid off. The other positions that were cut had been vacant. The cuts are estimated to save $10 million annually.
Wiebe said the needs of the health-care system should dictate changes in staffing — not seemingly arbitrary cuts. He said the loss of management positions is bound to add to the workload of frontline staff.
The WRHA would neither confirm nor deny that the list obtained by the Free Press is accurate. It has refused to release a list of the positions being cut, saying that might identify individual employees.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, WRHA spokeswoman Anne Bennett said positions were consolidated where "responsibilities could be absorbed by fewer managers."
"In all cases, the decision to delete a position was informed by the need to maintain our focus on patient care, adherence to standards, and to meet our 15 per cent reduction target," she said.
Asked about the elimination of a manager responsible for patient safety, Bennett wrote: "There are regional and site-based patient safety staff, and both the region and hospital sites maintain their commitment to ensuring patient safety. The responsibilities under any deleted position were distributed to other patient-safety staff."
Asked about the effect of losing a patient-flow manager, she said: "All staff and leaders, whether they provide direct care or support it, have a role to play in ensuring the quality and efficiency of patient flow. In this case, as in others, opportunities were found to redistribute responsibilities so that position deletions did not negatively impact patient care or movement."
Debbie Boissonneault, who represents health-care workers organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said the long-term effect of the cuts on patients and staff workload are unknown.
"Frontline workers are already feeling overworked, undervalued, and stressed out about all the major changes being made to health care," she said, referring to sweeping changes to city hospitals, including the closures of three emergency rooms. "Ultimately, nobody knows where the government’s axe will strike next, or which way the tree will fall, and that definitely hurts overall morale in the health care system."
Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, said: "Our concern is that the work previously done by people in these positions, much of it in critical areas such as patient safety, is being downloaded onto frontline staff who are already stretched thin."