Manitoba must outsmart private agencies that poach nurses: NDP
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Manitoba should learn from the private sector when it comes to attracting surgical nurses back to Winnipeg hospitals, as job vacancy rates remain stubbornly high, NDP Leader Wab Kinew suggests.
“We have to be competitive,” the Fort Rouge MLA said at a press conference Thursday to draw attention to nurse vacancies. “We have to understand that decisions made by this government to not offer a competitive job opportunity or career path to people in health care is leading to worse quality health.”
According to documents obtained by the NDP through an access to information request, the vacancy rate for surgical and anesthesia nurses in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority was 13 per cent, or 95 positions, as of September 2022. Compared to the same month in 2021, the vacancy rate had improved by 1.8 percentage points.
Kinew said there are nurses working in Manitoba today who could fill those positions. However, he argued they have been driven to work in private surgical centres and private nurse agencies by policies implemented by the Progressive Conservative government.
He suggested the government should reflect on what private centres offer to make their workplaces attractive to nurses.
If the New Democrats form government in the election, set for Oct. 3, Kinew said the province would adopt comparable compensation and benefit packages for public-sector nurses and reset the relationship with health staff.
“We ought to see those measures implemented in the public health-care system, so that people can get the surgeries and care that they need in a free, universally accessible public health-care system,” Kinew said.
He highlighted two hospitals in which vacancy rates increased in 2022. At Grace Hospital, the vacancy rate for surgical nurses increased to 18.4 per cent in September from 9.5 per cent in January.
At St. Boniface Hospital, the vacancy rate increased to 14.4 per cent from 9.5 per cent, in the same period.
In response to nursing shortages, the provincial government announced a $200-million health human resources plan to retain staff and add as many as 2,000 more workers to the system, in November. The plan includes a commitment to end mandated overtime and incentives for returning nurses and recruitment from the Philippines.
Shared Health, the provincial health authority, has promised to reduce the use of agency nurses. In June, Shared Health surveyed private nursing agencies about their businesses in an effort to wean the province off temporary workers.
The province’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force, meanwhile, has contracted private surgical centres to perform thousands of procedures to cut down on wait-lists while adding capacity in the public health system. Additionally, Manitoba has signed agreements with hospitals in the United States to perform surgeries for patients who are able to travel abroad.
On Thursday, Kinew would not promise to end the out-of-province surgery programs, saying he would first have to see the contracts the government has signed with the private, non-profit centres.
“We’re putting our plan together, but we can’t make a commitment until we know how much these surgeries are costing,” Kinew said.
The province has not said how much its contracts with hospitals in the U.S. cost Manitoba taxpayers.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.