More than 500 nurses will see their jobs change over the next two months during the early stage of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's system overhaul.
However, what exactly that change will mean — A new shift? A new unit? A new hospital? — remains unclear, even with the closure of the Victoria General Hospital ER and Misericordia Urgent Care Centre looming. Some will most certainly need to apply for new positions, although the WRHA remains adamant that there are jobs for all nurses who want them (it can't yet say the same for health care aides or unit clerks).
"These are the most significant changes to health care in Manitoba in a generation," said Karlee Blatz, the WRHA's senior labour relations counsel.
Blatz spoke at length with reporters Tuesday morning about the nursing changes required to further the province's plans to drastically change how Winnipeggers access health care, in keeping with the recommendations of the 2015 Peachey report.
Throughout the summer, the WRHA has been serving numerous unions with notice that their members' jobs may change. However, the nurses at Victoria and Grace Hospitals, as well as the Misericordia Urgent Care Centre, will be the first to go through the actual process, which involves multiple steps in accordance with individual union agreements.
Over the next few weeks, roughly 250 nurses at Victoria Hospital and and 250 nurses at Grace Hospital will receive deletion notices, meaning their jobs, as they've performed them, are being eliminated. Twenty-five nurses at Misericordia will receive the same notice.
Some will have the chance to stay in their current unit and pick a new role or new rotation, while some specialty nurses will be allowed to follow their patients to new facilities. For instance, critical care nurses at Victoria Hospital will be offered the chance to move with their patients when critical care beds are moved to Grace Hospital and St. Boniface Hospital.
Nurses can also choose to apply for another open job — the WRHA says it currently has 400 vacancies for permanent nursing jobs — or choose to be laid off. If they're still unhappy with their options, nurses will then have the opportunity to "bump" one of their peers, meaning use their seniority to take over an already-occupied position if they are qualified for it.
This entire process, including training to ensure a smooth transition, is to be finished during October.
"We won't have staff who are waking up and going to a brand-new environment, expected to deliver the same level of care," said Lori Lamont, WRHA vice president and chief nursing officer, stressing there is a plan for the transition.
The WHRA says it's unclear yet how many of the more than 500 nurses will be able to stay at their current facility or have to move to another one. At least in the interim, while Victoria Hospital undergoes renovations to consolidate mental health care services, Blatz said it won't be possible for all nurses who want to to stay there to actually stay. But, she went on, "we want to focus our staff on the end state because in the end state there is an opportunity for every nurse."
Ultimately, whether to stay or to go is a personal decision, explained Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, as some nurses will want to stay in the field they're involved in while others will want to stay with the facility they're experienced with. "Our point from the beginning was the sooner we could get to this, the smoother it would go," she said.
Whether the WRHA is actually able to push through these changes come October remains to be seen, Mowat said, "it depends when the deletion notices come out, I'm hoping it's going to be in the next couple of weeks." Although disappointed the WRHA didn't give the union advance notice the announcement would be Tuesday, she said she's ultimately pleased with the process the MNU helped devise to transition jobs. "The problem is nurses have been in limbo for a long time so we need to get on with things," Mowat said.
Nurses aren't the only ones in limbo, said the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.
"They're saying there's a job for every nurse," said Michelle Gawronsky, whose union represents health care aides and unit clerks, among other workers. "We have not been given those reassurances at all."
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Each new tidbit of information only seems to raise additional questions.
"They're moving too far, too fast," Gawronsky said, "we've got some real concerns on the amount of chaos that's out there."
In a release, the NDP called on the Manitoba government to halt the fall closures "in light of further evidence... the WRHA is unprepared."
Blatz said the WRHA plans to keep workers in the loop as these changes progress. Nurses at St. Boniface and Health Sciences Centre, whose jobs will also transition as part of phase one of the city-wide overhaul, will be dealt with at a later date.
The WRHA’s process for changing nursing positions:
1. Provide employment security notices to the union, providing them with advance warning that there will be changes that may impact staff:
Collective agreements usually require between 90 and 120 day notice
Employment security notices affecting nurses at Grace Hospital, Victoria Hospital, and Misericordia Health Centre were sent July 11, 2017
2. Meet with the unions to discuss the specifics surrounding the changes the WRHA is making and to negotiate a labour adjustment strategy that will dictate how those changes will come about (i.e. what jobs staff can have, how they can retain seniority, how they can choose new rotations when their position is being altered).
3. Once the labour adjustment strategy is finalized, there will be consultation about nursing rotations that will need to change as part of the system overhaul and all those involved will participate. In this case, it involves nurses at Grace and Victoria Hospitals evaluating proposed new rotations.
4. At this stage, nurses whose positions are changing (whether it’s a change in schedule from straight day shifts to a split day-night, or whether it’s the deletion of a specialized role) will receive deletion notices.
5. Nurses who have received a deletion notice then have options, including:
To choose a new job in their current unit as part of a selection process
To apply for an opening on another unit
To "bump" a nurse, in other words to use their seniority (if they have the right qualifications) to step into an already occupied position
To choose to be laid off
— source: The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Victoria General Hospital: 69 per cent of nursing staff (roughly 250 nurses) will receive deletion notices. While the WRHA says it expects to increase the number of nurses working at the hospital, that may not happen right away given the renovations required to handle mental health consolidation at the facility.
Grace Hospital: 51 per cent of nursing staff (roughly 250 nurses) will receive deletion notices. However, the WRHA says ultimately it expects to increase the number of nursing positions available at the hospital.
Misericordia Health Centre: 25 nurses in the urgent care department will receive deletion notices since urgent care is slated to close Oct. 3. They can transition to other roles.