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This article was published 26/3/2019 (296 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba government and Lifeflight staff have polar-opposite opinions about whether the air ambulance service is in a stable position.
Three Lifeflight staffers — who spoke to the Free Press under condition of anonymity, so as not to jeopardize their jobs — said the schedule shows 16 vacancies for critical-care nurses in April.
The gaps in the schedule may prevent doctors and pilots from flying, as they require nurses on board to help stabilize patients. Lifeflight responds to critical incidents outside a 200-kilometre radius of Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said late last week that the service is better equipped than it’s been in a long time, after the province hired two additional pilots and sent a jet down to the United States. for maintenance upgrades.
It is also looking to hire two more nurses, to have a staff complement of six, he said.
"My focus is on the stabilization of the service, and I would say we’ve made gains. We had some question marks going back two and three months ago," Friesen said, referring to gaps in physicians’ schedules that were reported in the media.
"We have been able to get to a more continuous service, whereby we understand schedules are being drawn up and people are showing up for work and this is all good."
Lifeflight has encountered speed bumps since last summer, when the province issued a request for proposal for private carriers to operate government air services. So far, two out of three government services have been privatized — fire suppression and general transport for judges, sheriffs and accused persons — but Lifeflight is still in limbo.
One nurse said morale has been "non-existent" among Lifeflight crew since the RFP was issued. There is uncertainty over job security if the province moves ahead with privatization. Friesen and Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler have been adamant the government won’t pursue the plan if it isn’t as safe as the current service.
Friesen wouldn’t say Thursday when a decision would be made on the Lifeflight RFP, noting "when there is something new to say, we will report it."
"It’s very important to know that the Lifeflight physicians are not opposed to privatization," one of the cohort’s doctors said. "They are opposed to the dismantling of a functional public system without consideration of the impact on the clinical component.
"The fact that we are going to have multiple outages in terms of our ability to deliver care in April is a direct consequence of this RFP process."
Friesen countered that Lifeflight has had scheduling issues for a decade.
"It’s not that we’re saying we are unsympathetic when there is a gap or a vacancy on the schedule. It’s not the first time we’ve had those... gaps in the schedule for Lifeflight go back as far as 10 years," he said, referring to nurse and physician vacancies.
Dr. Renate Singh, the medical director for Lifeflight who has been in charge of staff recruitment and scheduling, said Friesen’s assertion isn’t true.
"I have never had a medical vacancy or a nursing vacancy in over a decade to fill — until now," Singh said Friday.
A Lifeflight nurse also reported never having seen such a shortage in shifts before last summer.
"There isn’t a nurse that works here that hasn’t really put their heart and soul into the program and literally saved countless lives. And to see it just go to the point of being dismantled... sorry about the medical analogy, but it’s like having surgery without anesthetic," the nurse said.
"It’s just pitiful, pitiful the way staff have been treated here."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 12:03 PM CDT: Adds photo