While staff vacancy rates have risen at some Winnipeg hospitals since last year, Manitoba’s health minister said new hires are on the way to fill the gaps.
During a committee of supply Monday, opposition MLAs grilled Cameron Friesen about the vacancies at hospital emergency departments throughout the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA).
Friesen reported on some of the emergency departments' vacancy rates, including St. Boniface Hospital which had the highest rate at 25.8 per cent. There was also 16.4 per cent rate at Grace Hospital, 15 per cent rate at Victoria Hospital and nine per cent rate at Health Sciences Centre, in their respective emergency departments.
According to a FIPPA document obtained by the NDP, overall hospital vacancy rates during the 2017-18 fiscal year were 17.3 per cent at St. Boniface and 10 per cent at Victoria.
On Tuesday, the health minister told reporters normal vacancy rates hover around eight per cent, though the government's goal is to have hospitals fully staffed.
"In just the last 90 days, we have hired 256 new people in the WRHA, including 128 in St. Boniface Hospital. In addition to that, 56 of those hires are brand new from outside of the system," Friesen said.
He was not immediately able to break down where the new hires came from or what roles they took, but noted most of them were nurses.
"So we are hiring into the system, we are filling vacancies and we are working collaboratively with all partners to find ways to make that process run even quicker," the minister said.
The NDP pointed to the vacancy rates as a contributing factor in increased emergency-department wait times, singling out St. Boniface for its longer month-to-month and year-to-year waits. Friesen disputed the claims, noting waits have decreased since the NDP were in office.
NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said the government is aware that hospital staff vacancies are hurting patient care.
"The 25.8 per cent vacancy rate at St. Boniface is simply unacceptable. It doesn’t serve families and all it does is further perpetuate harm happening to folks who are just trying to get good quality health care," Asagwara said.
Meantime, the WRHA said it believes higher vacancy rates are "temporary" and will be rectified soon.
"We are confident that the current vacancy rate is a temporary condition resulting from the most significant changes to our health care system in generations," spokesperson Bronwyn Penner Holigroski said by email.
"The WRHA is actively working with our partners and sites to address this issue. Of note is a Nursing Workforce Strategy focused on identifying opportunities to improve the recruitment process, to remove barriers to external nursing candidates and to simplify the application (and hiring process) wherever possible."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.