New head of Manitoba sex assault examiner program based in Alta.
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Out-of-province remote work from the newly hired head of the province’s sexual assault nurse examiner program has drawn public criticism as the project still struggles with staff shortages.
A teenager was turned away March 13, when they sought a forensic sexual assault exam in the middle of the night after waiting at the Children’s Hospital ER in Winnipeg. Instead, the teen was told to come back in the morning, when a nurse was on shift, a source told the Free Press.
More than eight hours passed before the teen could be examined, the source said.
Shared Health couldn’t confirm the incident before deadline Tuesday. A spokesperson stated the agency wouldn’t confirm identifying details about a patient to protect their privacy.
“Having said that, every effort is being made to ensure reliable and ongoing access to care people of any age who have undergone a trauma of this nature. We sincerely regret any occasion where a patient is required to wait for these vital services,” a spokesperson stated, adding training is ongoing to have forensic nurses working day and night shifts under the expanded program.
Meantime, Shared Health hasn’t answered questions about whether the Alberta-based provincial program manager hired last month will eventually relocate to Manitoba.
The provincial agency has stated the manager has family originally from Manitoba, and will continue a hybrid model of remote and in-person work in the interim. When asked how long the interim period will last and whether a permanent move to Manitoba is on the horizon, a Shared Health spokesperson stated the organization couldn’t comment further on human resource matters.
The manager is responsible for developing the forensic nurse examiner service at Health Sciences Centre in the capital and other hospitals in Manitoba as it rolls out in northern and rural areas.
The manager has nine years of experience as a forensic nurse. She previously worked for Alberta Health Services as a nurse consultant on a provincial team working on mental health and justice. She’s “exceptionally qualified to lead our first provincial program,” on sexual assault/intimate partner violence, Shared Health stated.
However, a nurse who works in the program said its nurses haven’t had any communication with the new manager and don’t report to her for day-to-day operations.
Such a manager should be present in-person, involved in training and ideally seeing some patients, said Katie Stark, who has been conducting forensic exams for 11 years.
Stark said newly hired program nurses are still completing their training and won’t be ready to see patients independently for a few months. Meanwhile, patients are still being instructed to wait hours for an exam — without washing or wiping themselves — until a nurse is on shift.
“There continues to be no strategizing on what to do when there is no nurse on. There’s been no effort to recruit nurses for vacant shifts from the current pool of casual nurses to fill shifts when they are left empty and not staffed,” Stark said Tuesday.
“We have received no communication from the new manager or current leadership on how they plan to fill shifts when they are left empty. It appears there is no plan other than to have patients return when a nurse is on.”
Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon faced criticism about the program manager’s out-of-province remote work when the Opposition twice brought up the issue during the legislature’s question period this month.
When NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine (St. John’s) spoke about the remote manager and asked when the government will fix this staffing “mess” on March 2, and again March 8, Gordon blamed the former NDP government for under-funding forensic nursing.
“We created the forensic nurse examiner program, and we’re committed to ensuring that it is fully staffed with a manager and staff that can provide the services that these individuals need,” Gordon responded March 8.
The Progressive Conservatives formed government in 2016.
Staff shortages and resulting long delays collecting evidence for sexual assault investigations prompted the government to announce in April 2022 it would expand the HSC program, with $642,000 in annual funding, and hire full-time nurses and a provincial program manager.
Further requests for comment from the health minister’s office and the NDP were not returned Tuesday.
— with files from Danielle Da Silva
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.