With a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and a shortage of staff to care for them, news from Manitoba’s health minister that more than 90 foreign-trained nurses could soon be licensed and on the front lines comes as a surprise to industry advocates.

With a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and a shortage of staff to care for them, news from Manitoba’s health minister that more than 90 foreign-trained nurses could soon be licensed and on the front lines comes as a surprise to industry advocates.

On Thursday, a record 499 people were in hospital with COVID-19, up from 454 the day before, when Premier Heather Stefanson and Health Minister Audrey Gordon assured Manitobans they don’t have to worry about sending ICU patients out of province again: more nurses were being added to increase hospital capacity.

"We’re working diligently with the Manitoba Nurses Union to ensure that we make that happen," Stefanson said at the Wednesday news conference.

"The briefing I received shows there’s over 90 internationally educated nurses that have been going through the process of licensure that could go into the system within the next few days," Gordon said.

It was news to Manitoba Nurses Union.

"The front line wasn’t consulted about the onboarding of these nurses," union president Darlene Jackson said in an email Thursday.

Although the union has met twice with the health minister and want to work with the province on getting more nurses working in overwhelmed hospitals, Jackson said it is concerned about dropping newly-certified foreign-trained nurses into "absolutely horrible conditions" without the supports needed to succeed.

"This is not only ignorant but yet another recipe for disaster," Jackson email said, adding the province seems to be "downplaying" the severity of the situation.

Anecdotally, she’s heard about nurses who tested positive for COVID-19 being pressured to return to work even when they are symptomatic. The union is urging members to stay home if ill.

Stefanson said this week the provincial government is pushing regulatory colleges to speed up the accreditation of foreign-trained nurses.

The province received 1,360 applications that "met the basic eligibility criteria to take the next steps in becoming nurses in Manitoba," she said Wednesday, referring to a program announced in July to provide financial assistance to internationally educated nurses working toward their Manitoba nursing credentials.

"Of those 1,300, realistically, I want to see as many of those in the next week or two working in the front lines… We will be challenging the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba and the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Manitoba to ensure we license as many of these applicants as soon as possible," the premier said.

On Thursday, the College of Registered Nurses questioned the government’s numbers, saying it has been asking to meet with the province since it announced the program in July, and has no idea how the province is determining who meets its eligibility criteria.

A statement from the college said there are 48 open internationally educated nurse applications at various stages of the licensing process. How quickly they’re licensed depends on the results of the review of clinical competency, academic qualifications, ability to provide required documentation, whether or not they need to complete additional education, and passing the licensure exam.

"We will continue to be committed to finding solutions that help expedite registration, while maintaining appropriate controls that ensure all applicants who are licensed to practise as an RN in Manitoba have the appropriate training, knowledge, skills and judgment to practice competently and safely."

The College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Manitoba was not prepared to comment Thursday.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.