Grandview hospital temporary closure highlights rural staffing woes
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“A nurse can take a vacation and they close a hospital.”
On Wednesday, Grandview Municipality councillor Jim Winfield repeated the phrase he said has become common in rural Manitoba and distills the desperation of small towns amid a perpetual nursing shortage.
On Dec. 1, the Grandview District Hospital will close its doors for at least five weeks. People in the community nearly 400 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg needing acute care will be told to go elsewhere because there are too few nurses to run the facility.
“There are nurses, but not enough to keep the door open,” said Winfield, who also sits on a community committee working to recruit and retain health-care professionals to the town west of Dauphin.
“We have a severe shortage. Neighbouring communities have recruited nurses, paid to have them relocate, so we’re very short,” he said, noting at least two nurses are needed.
“We’ve been actively trying to recruit nurses but we haven’t had any success at this point. “
The closure is the latest in a series of service interruptions at the health centre. Over the summer, its emergency department faced a partial closure owing to staff shortages.
Winfield said the emergency department will remain open with reduced hours this time around. However, he questioned how the department will run without inpatient care on site and worried about a cascading impact on diagnostic and support services.
Meanwhile, community leaders are appealing to people with nursing experience to pitch in at the hospital and volunteer with a team to manage the local clinic, which has one full-time doctor.
“It’s a huge impact,” Winfield said. “If we lose the health-care services… people are literally going to start moving away if we don’t have acute care health services.
“Health care’s the lifeblood of any small community.”
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew raised the matter in question period Wednesday, and said the Progressive Conservative government must develop a plan to keep the hospital open through December.
“This is incredibly concerning to families in the Parkland. It means people will have to travel further to access essential medical care. It means there’s an increased chance of compromised health care for residents both of Grandview and surrounding communities,” Kinew said.
Premier Heather Stefanson thanked health-care staff working in the community, and said the province will work with the local authority to ensure people “get the health care they need closer to home.”
Nurses in Prairie Mountain Health — responsible for western Manitoba — are also putting in significant overtime hours to cover shortages in the region, according to freedom of information documents provided by the NDP.
In 2021, nurses in Prairie Mountain worked 186,681 overtime hours. As of September, nurses had worked 163,977 overtime hours, which puts staff on track to log more than 200,000 this year.
Meanwhile, Prairie Mountain is outspending every other health region when it comes to its reliance in agency nurses, or private, temporary staff. It spent more than $8.6 million on agency nurses between April 1 and Aug. 31.
By comparison, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spent $1.9 million on temporary staff in the same period. As of September, public-sector nurses in Winnipeg have recorded 492,102 overtime hours this year.
Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said overtime continues to be a huge problem, with many nurses leaving due to “perpetual and unceasing demand.”
“Without a significant, meaningful, and thoughtful investment in public nursing incentives, we won’t bring our lost nurses back,” Jackson said.
In a statement, a Prairie Mountain spokesperson said four of 14 nursing positions at Grandview are occupied and just two nurses are available in December.
“It is a significant concern to the region to have reduced services in Grandview and there is ongoing work to recruit to the site,” the spokesperson said. “PMH very much appreciates the strong support of the community in their recruitment efforts. PMH is working to re-establish services at this site as soon as possible.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.