Winnipeg nurses burdened by 400,000 OT hours, records show


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Winnipeg nurses are set to finish this year with more than 400,000 overtime hours logged, even as the health authority and provincial government try to curb their reliance on mandated shifts.

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Winnipeg nurses are set to finish this year with more than 400,000 overtime hours logged, even as the health authority and provincial government try to curb their reliance on mandated shifts.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority paid out more than 328,000 overtime hours from January to September, according to access to information records released by the NDP.

On average, nurses clocked about 36,547 overtime hours per month in 2022, an increase of about 50 per cent compared to 2020, when the region reported 285,259 overtime hours.

Overtime reported by the WRHA does not include nurses who work at the Health Sciences Centre or are employed by Shared Health.

“It’s pretty clear based on these numbers that we’re still in a staffing crisis and, unfortunately, we know that has a direct impact on our ability to retain and recruit staff,” NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.

In response to system-wide staffing shortages and high nurse vacancy rates, the Manitoba government rolled out a $200-million health human resources action plan in November.

The Progressive Conservative government plans to add 2,000 health workers to the system as it moves towards ending mandated overtime. However, there’s no firm timeline to achieve that goal.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson described the first round of incentives provided to nurses through the action plan as a positive step.

The province is offering weekend premiums, full-time incentives, and additional support for mental health counselling. It’s also providing financial incentives for returning nurses and publicly funded nurses who refer agency nurses to return to the health system.

The province has also created new nurse training seats and is offering tuition incentives to students while it updates its memorandum of understanding with the Philippines to recruit workers.

Jackson said she’s pleased the government is talking about ending mandated overtime, but doesn’t expect the demand on nurses to subside in the near term.

“Unfortunately, there is still plenty of work ahead to get the system robust enough to end mandating,” Jackson said, adding the physical and mental health of nurses who are constantly asked to work overtime must be addressed.

“Given where we are at right now, we at MNU, unfortunately don’t see an end in sight.”

Asagwara, a former psychiatric nurse, said the reliance on overtime at the Grace Hospital this year is of particular concern.

Records show nurses at the hospital in west Winnipeg logged over 39,000 overtime hours in the first nine months of the year. In 2020, nurses worked 41,552 overtime hours.

“The numbers at the Grace Hospital should sound the alarm bells for absolutely everybody,” the Union Station MLA said.

In recent months, nurses at the Grace have been reassigned to unfamiliar units to cover staffing shortages, particularly in the emergency department; the hospital had the highest nursing vacancy rate of all Winnipeg hospitals, the MNU said; and in October, more than two dozen elective orthopedic surgeries were cancelled owing to a large volume of urgent trauma surgeries and staff shortages.

Asagwara argued the PCs have not done enough to respond to staffing shortages and criticized the health HR plan for lacking specified targets. Adding 2,000 workers to the system will not cover current nurse vacancies, the critic said.

“Staff at the Grace have been saying that they don’t have enough staff, that they are unable to provide the quality of care patients deserve and that they’re drowning,” Asagwara said.

Meanwhile, the WRHA has a committee focused on reducing the nurse vacancy rate and lowering overall overtime hours, spokesperson Bobbi-Jo Stanley said in a statement Wednesday.

Current initiatives include recruiting undergraduate nurse employees, offering schedule flexibility, enhanced premiums for select shifts and incentives for full-time positions. The province’s plan is also expected to bolster staffing levels in the region, Stanley said.

“The WRHA is committed to eliminating mandatory overtime, which is only used as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted to balance patient and staff safety,” Stanley said.

The health authority did not say if it has set a target for reducing overtime hours in the next year. However, it wants to begin measuring and reporting mandated overtime to better understand how often it is used and to draft a plan to eliminate the practice.

The health authority thanked employees who work additional hours to meet patient needs.

“Despite the ongoing challenges in the health care system, staff continue to step up every day to ensure the care and safety of all patients,” Stanley said.

The province did not respond to a request for comment.

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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