Gordon to meet with HSC emergency-department nurses Health minister should listen to spent front-line staff struggling in increasingly chaotic conditions, union president says
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Manitoba’s health minister will meet with overburdened emergency-room nurses at Health Sciences Centre for the first time since the pandemic began, amid the ongoing crisis in the hospital’s emergency department.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon is set to attend two town hall meetings at Health Sciences Centre, the first of which is Thursday, followed by a second on Oct. 7. Emergency nurses at the province’s largest hospital have been invited “for a conversation about the challenges facing our ED” via a Shared Health email obtained by the Free Press.
The email notes “capacity is limited to accommodate physical distancing requirements.”
HSC is increasingly having to treat trauma patients in hallways and close already-limited emergency beds because of a lack of nurses to staff them. Meanwhile, some nurses on shift are being forced to work up to 12 hours at HSC, and around the clock at other hospitals.
Manitoba Nurses Union President Darlene Jackson said she hopes the minister really listens to the nurses and that the meetings result in “tangible solutions.” The union has been inundated with nurses’ concerns at HSC and other hospitals, Jackson said, which the minister needs to hear.
Jackson acknowledged nurses in smaller health centres outside of Winnipeg are regularly being expected to work 24 hours, and that expectation is carrying over into city hospitals as well. It’s not unusual for nurses to be expected to work 20 or 24 consecutive hours, Jackson said, because baseline staffing needs in hospitals are being met via overtime and mandating nurses to work hours past their shift’s end, regardless of their responsibilities at home.
The union contract prohibits mandating nurses to work longer than 16 hours, unless by mutual agreement. The limits of a “mutual agreement” are being stretched, the union president said, explaining nurses are pressured to stay on to ensure the best care for their patients.
“They’ve been guilted, they feel like they are to the point where they don’t really have a choice, even though they don’t mutually agree,” Jackson said. “So, it’s not really voluntary. I guess it’s voluntold that they are working extra.”
Jackson said she’s not sure there is a short-term solution to the staffing crisis, and hasn’t heard one from the provincial government.
“All of their plans are for the future. And I’m not sure nurses can wait that long,” she said.
“I really fear that what their plan is, is that nurses are just going to work under these conditions until they have more grads coming out of nursing (school.) They keep talking about, we’re going to get nurses out of retirement, we’re going to bring nurses back from the agencies. The problem with that is, in this work environment, no one’s coming back out of retirement.”
Gordon told reporters Wednesday she wants to hear from nurses about the issues affecting the health-care system and “how we can address their concerns.”
Many nurses have been emailing her with solutions to problems, she said.
“I want to hear more. So this is an opportunity for them to sit with me and have that dialogue,” Gordon said.
The town hall meetings aren’t public, and HSC nurses are being contacted directly, a provincial government spokesperson confirmed.
“All of their plans are for the future. And I’m not sure nurses can wait that long.”–Darlene Jackson
“Minister Gordon will be meeting to get feedback on our health system directly from front-line emergency room nurses from HSC in the coming weeks. Shared Health is advising those who wish to join from HSC (capacity permitting) directly,” the spokesperson stated.
“Our government looks forward to discussion opportunities with front-line staff from other facilities in the future.”
Other meetings at other hospitals haven’t yet been announced.
“I’m really hoping that the minister comes and listens to what those nurses have to say, and brings some very tangible solutions on what they’re going to do to make this better. Because mandating nurses for 16, 20, 24 hours on a daily basis as a baseline staffing solution is not a solution,” Jackson said. “Nurses cannot maintain that.”
— with files from Carol Sanders
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.