Nursing shortage forcing longer ER wait times: union


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High job vacancy rates in Manitoba hospitals are continuing to cause bottlenecks that keep ERs full and patients waiting longer, the Manitoba Nurses Union says.

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This article was published 30/09/2021 (324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

High job vacancy rates in Manitoba hospitals are continuing to cause bottlenecks that keep ERs full and patients waiting longer, the Manitoba Nurses Union says.

A critical nursing shortage in Manitoba and across the country is to blame for unfilled positions and a growing number of local nurses looking for work outside of the public health-care system, according to the union.

On Wednesday, it released data showing nursing job vacancy rates at all three Winnipeg emergency departments were higher this summer than the overall rates at each hospital.

The vacancy rate for nurses at the St. Boniface Hospital ER is 25 per cent. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Grace Hospital had the highest ER vacancy rate, at 28.6 per cent, as well as the highest overall hospital vacancy rate, at 22.5 per cent; St. Boniface ER was at 25 per cent (overall rate of 20.1 per cent); and Health Sciences Centre had a vacancy rate of 21.2 per cent in the ER and 19 per cent overall, according to July data collected by MNU.

Redeployments and nurse burnout aren’t primarily responsible for these unfilled jobs, although the number of medical leaves among nurses is also rising, union president Darlene Jackson said.

“These vacancy rates are due to the fact that there are just not enough nurses in this system and that we are, daily, losing nurses out of our public health-care system. They are going elsewhere, they are retiring if possible,” said Jackson.

The public health system is losing nurses daily, says Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“It’s just a culmination of what’s been happening over the last five-and-a-half years that started with the (Manitoba hospital system) transformation and it has just been one hit after the other to nursing.”

A lack of nurses in ERs and on hospital floors created an ongoing bottleneck that’s forced ER patients to wait even longer in recent months because there’s no staffed bed available for them to be admitted, the MNU says.

Meantime, seeking control over their own schedules and healthier work-life balance, a growing number of public nurses are picking up shifts with private agencies on their days off or are even going to work for private nursing companies full-time. The public system then has to backfill with private nurses.

“What’s even more worrying is the number of nurses I’m hearing from that are saying to me: I am going to work full-time for the agency,” Jackson said.

Rural Manitoba has near-constant demand for private nurses, who did the most work last year in northern and western parts of the province (in the Northern health region and Prairie Mountain), according to data supplied by the union.

The number of hours worked by private nurses in Manitoba was on the rise years before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but they have doubled provincewide since 2017. Private nurse hours reached more than 368,000 in 2020-21 — a seven per cent increase over the previous year.

Short of solving the nursing crisis, the only way to keep hospitals from being overrun this fall and winter is if Manitobans get vaccinated and follow public health orders, Jackson said, reiterating a familiar plea.

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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