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Manitoba Nurses Union leadership and provincial health officials met face-to-face Tuesday, after allegations of inappropriate and unsafe working conditions at the province’s largest hospital were levelled by nurses last week.

However, it was not immediately clear what results the meeting of MNU president Darlene Jackson, Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Shared Health representatives generated.

Earlier Tuesday — five days after the Free Press first reported the MNU was considering grey-listing Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre (advising against taking new jobs at the downtown facility) — HSC officials stepped forward to say they hear, and are acting on, nurses’ concerns.

Monika Warren, HSC acting chief nursing officer, said she talks weekly and meets bi-weekly with the president of MNU’s HSC chapter to hear member concerns. She emphasized seeking to build more forums for nurses to provide feedback.

"I’m not going to undermine that it has been a challenging time for nurses. That’s certainly what I’m hearing," Warren said.

"But I am extremely committed to working with them on solutions and I will continue to work hard at that this year — both to make sure that they feel heard, but more importantly that we’re getting at the suggestions that they suggest that we can work towards."

Warren listed some initiatives undertaken in the past 12 months to drive engagement, which include an acuity measurement tool used by nurses to measure patient volumes and conditions in hopes of forecasting staffing needs. There were two more resuscitation beds and a low-acuity area added to the adult emergency department, as well.

Ronan Segrave, HSC chief operating officer, said a security barrier will be going up in the emergency department to help protect triage nurses, though he couldn’t provide many details.

"We continue to look on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis around further changes we need to make, listening to staff, listening to nurses in relation to security," he said.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Ronan Segrave, chief operating officer at HSC.</p>

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press

Ronan Segrave, chief operating officer at HSC.

However, the MNU president said she hadn’t heard a peep from HSC nor the province prior to Tuesday afternoon.

Jackson reiterated nurses are becoming increasingly frustrated by lack of action on the parts of their employers and the government.

"I have to honestly say that nurses in this province have been asking for engagement and to be at the table and to talk about the issue for months — since consolidation started (in 2017). And that has not happened," she said in a phone interview early Tuesday.

"I mean, we’ve got nurses out there who are begging for help. They are drowning and they are so afraid for their patients."

Last weekend, the Free Press reported on five nurses’ concerns about HSC, which included excessive amounts of overtime, increased violent incidents, staff shortages, unsafe patient-to-nurse ratios and dwindling medical supplies. 

Despite repeated interview requests over the past week, neither HSC nor Shared Health made any of their leaders available until Tuesday to respond.

By then, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority had provided new numbers on nursing staff vacancies at all Winnipeg hospitals and warned of flu season hitting emergency departments hard, exacerbating problems.

One HSC emergency department nurse who spoke to the Free Press under condition of anonymity said wait times on Sunday night skyrocketed to the highest she'd seen in her career: 12 hours.

The nurse said there were 40 patients in the waiting room around 7:30 a.m. Monday, with people still waiting to be seen after being triaged during Sunday's day shift.

 

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu