Retired and practising nurses who responded to a government plea for help to administer COVID-19 vaccinations are calling the recruitment process a "gong show" and a case of the "left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing."
Several nurses told the Free Press that after applying in December to fill in shifts at vaccination clinics, they received no response from the government.
Some retired nurses who had signed up, received training and were on an email list for shifts, were later sent confusing messages that suggested they begin the application process all over again.
"I was just flabbergasted because I'd already been hired," said one retiree, who has yet to administer a single dose of the vaccine.
Earlier this month, the province hired a private Canadian company, the David Aplin Group, to assist it in recruiting staff for its vaccination clinics.
The Pallister government has said very little about the hiring. A spokeswoman said the contract was tendered in December and signed this month.
"Their role includes placing job ads, reviewing applications, shortlisting and interviewing candidates, conducting background checks and presenting a verbal offer on behalf of Shared Health," she said about the company.
She said it "will also keep applicants informed of the status of their application throughout the recruitment process."
One Winnipeg nurse said she responded to an internal Winnipeg Regional Health Authority posting in December that sought nurses to work shifts at immunization clinics. She heard nothing until Tuesday, when the David Aplin Group contacted her by email.
The nurse, who asked not to be identified, said she wondered why she had not received a response to her application after the government had pleaded with health workers to step forward to join the immunization effort.
Although she has full-time work as a hospital nurse, she agreed to take on weekend and evening shifts, at straight time, to help out.
Aplin, which has offices across Canada, including one in Winnipeg, emailed her an application link — even though she had already applied.
The nurse said she wonders why the government is paying a company to hire people for the vaccination effort when it already employs human resources staff.
Neither the government nor David Aplin Group would say exactly when the company was hired or how much it's being paid. A government official said the public would have to wait until the information is posted on the province's website.
"They're doing all this after the first vaccines have already arrived in Manitoba. It's way too late." ‐ Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont
Nikki Palmer, a partner in the company's Winnipeg office, said the firm is playing a support role.
"As long as recruitment is needed for this project, it's my understanding that we'll have the chance to support (it)," she said.
"We were brought on to support the recruitment efforts. We will be doing all the initial reach-outs, all of the interviews over the phone, all of the hiring selection. So as demands surface for different roles in different regions, we will be understanding what those are from the government and we will be responding accordingly."
Palmer said the company has sent out "initial communication" to more than 2,300 people who have expressed interest in working in vaccination clinics.
She noted that those receiving the message "were at various stages" in the application process.
"We have learned that there were certain individuals on those lists that have already completed the process," she said. "So, hopefully, that just means we get the chance to say hello and thank them for their service, and they can disregard that communication."
Manitoba received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 14. By Dec. 21, the first 1,000 doses had been administered. The Winnipeg "super site" at the RBC Convention Centre opened on Jan. 4.
On Wednesday, the government said it had the equivalent of 1,783 full-time staff in place for the immunization effort, including 859 immunizers.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont questioned why the government only recently sought outside help for its vaccination rollout — and only recently hired a full-time provincial director of COVID-19 immunization.
"They're doing all this after the first vaccines have already arrived in Manitoba," he said. "It's way too late."
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said she's heard from many nurses who have volunteered to be part of the vaccination effort and have been exasperated by the sign-up process.
"There's lots of frustration out there from nurses who want to help, who want to be part of the solution and are not getting the calls to do it at all," she said.
Some nurses have volunteered to immunize Manitobans during their vacation time and have not heard back from the government, she said.
Jackson said the government would be better served if it abandoned its top-down planning process and started listening to front-line nurses.
For example, the province has requested no input from public health nurses "who are the experts in providing vaccinations and immunizations in this province," she said.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.