Province puts $123M of health-care employees plan into retaining, recruiting nurses
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Manitoba has pinned the majority of its $200-million, 2,000 more health-care employees blueprint on incentives devoted to staffing issues in nursing.
On Friday — nearly 100 days after announcing the human resources “action plan” — Health Minister Audrey Gordon had few details to share, beyond $123 million of the funds being tabbed for recruiting, retaining and supporting public system nurses.
“Some of these incentives have just gone into effect, some as early as just last month,” Gordon told reporters at a news conference at Grace Hospital in Winnipeg. “We’re starting to see the results of that and we will continue to work towards ending mandated overtime.”
One such incentive — an $8-per-hour premium offered to registered nurses and licensed practical nurses who work weekend hours — came into effect Nov. 18, and has so far paid out more than $5.9 million.
“These incentives improve nurse staffing where there are high-demand needs in the health-care system,” Gordon said, providing a cursory update on nine initiatives specifically for nurses that are underway and others in the works.
Anecdotally, the incentives are already relieving some of the pressure on those overworked health-care professionals, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority president and chief executive officer Mike Nader said.
“While it is still early days, I’m hearing from our colleagues at Shared Health that the weekend premiums are beginning to help with the number of vacant shifts on Friday and Saturday across the province,” Nader said.
“We have seen very early positive signs that full-time incentives have been well-received by new nursing graduates starting out in the profession,” he added, noting another new pay incentive that started last month.
Nurses who work a full-time equivalent with rotating day and evening/night shifts were offered an additional premium of up to $10,000 per year. The premium will be paid out to eligible nurses in January 2024. The province says 3,600 nurses are expected to qualify for it, at an estimated cost of $36 million.
However, while the incentives are welcomed and will help, they’re not enough to fill the vacancies or make up for those quitting or retiring, Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said Friday.
“I believe the number of nurses who are leaving the system or who are retiring from the system is much higher than the number of new nurses that we’re getting in, which is also very worrying — especially when we’re seeing new nurses leave the system as quickly as they come in.”
With close to 25 per cent of nursing positions vacant on average in Manitoba — a number much higher in the emergency department at Grace Hospital and in the North — fewer nurses are doing more work, Jackson said.
As a result, experienced nurses do not have time to mentor newer, inexperienced nurses who are carrying a heavier load than ever, she added.
Jackson said she was heartened to hear the health minister Friday promise to develop a mentorship program the union has long-advocated for.
“I’m hoping they’re finally taking it to heart, because it is important that we keep these young people in the system,” said Jackson. “Retention is absolutely key, but I think supporting new nurses is just as important.”
As of January, the WRHA had hired 27 new full-time nurses and has put 205 senior students to work through the undergraduate nurse employment program, according to Nader.
However, he couldn’t say if the incentives to attract and retain nurses will offset a demographic surge of retirements and departures.
“We’re still calculating the data and looking at our demographics of nurses… How many could be retiring in the coming years and how many we need coming into the system, given all of the increasing demands we’re seeing across the system,” Nader said.
“We don’t have that information yet. That’s part of our health human resources strategy.”
Gordon said Friday the Manitoba government has a team en route to the Philippines, hoping to hire 150 nurses.
“That’s a drop in the bucket when we’re talking 2,800 vacancies, but it is something that will help bolster our system,” said Jackson. “I think nurses have really sort of figured out now that what we have is what we have, and until we get more individuals in the system, we have to hold the system together the best we can.”
“I think nurses have really sort of figured out now that… until we get more individuals in the system, we have to hold the system together the best we can.”–Darlene Jackson, MNU president
Meanwhile, the lack of a more detailed plan and accounting of where and when public health dollars are spent — and what specifically that spending aims to accomplish — drew fire Friday from advocates for the public health-care system.
“What is the actual bang for the $200 million that we’re supposed to be seeing from this action plan?” said Thomas Linner, spokesman for the Manitoba Health Coalition.
The province should provide “publicly available metrics by which one can judge the success or the failure of this $200-million initiative.”
“Over what time period are the $200 million and 2,000 new health-care professionals to be added to the system? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else — or what baseline we are starting with when it comes to those 2,000 health-care professionals?” Linner said.
“What will the impact of this $200 million be on, say, the allied health-care professionals’ crisis in our rural hospitals that is keeping many of our rural emergency rooms closed, on our ambulances, emergency services, on our operating rooms?”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.