Nurses at Grace Hospital have claimed one-third more overtime amid restructuring of Winnipeg emergency rooms, though the province says those stats don’t include moves to alleviate overstaffing.
"Nurses are lacking the ability and support to provide that safe, quality care that they want to provide," said Darlene Jackson, head of the Manitoba Nurses Union.
The MNU obtained data from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, showing a 32.2 per cent uptick in overtime hours claimed by nurses working at the Grace Hospital, from January to August 2018, compared with the same period a year prior.
That aligns with the first portion of the province’s reform of the health-care system, Jackson noted.
"The implementation of the phases are affecting our ability to provide care for Manitobans," she said.
However, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said that’s a selective way of viewing the data.
"The numbers that the MNU are pointing to don’t tell the whole story," Friesen wrote in a statement Thursday.
He and WRHA officials pointed out wait times at Grace Hospital are lower in the captured time period than the 2015-16 fiscal year, which Friesen made sure to note was during the former NDP government’s reign.
WRHA executive Lori Lamont, who oversees nursing operations, admitted, however, there is a recent uptick in overtime; yet she called the data "a snapshot in time" and claimed it would show "pretty much a flat line" when compared with three years ago.
"Our system was really struggling," Lamont told the Free Press, comparing it to progress since the 2015-16 fiscal year. "We are trending to be better across the board."
Jackson said looking at stats across the WRHA evades the key point of the data: a hospital that underwent part the first phase of restructuring saw a resulting, large uptick in overtime.
"We’re concerned because overtime has clearly gotten worse since Phase 1. And now Phase 2 is right around the corner, and that hospital is going to be caring for even more acutely ill patients," said Jackson. "When you look at the overall WRHA picture, it really waters down what's happening in hospitals like the Grace, where the impact very, very large."
In August, 70 neonatal nurses co-signed a letter to Friesen, saying they felt "stressed, burnt-out, and exhausted" by their workload.
Looking at the Grace data, Lamont cited a long flu season as contributing to part of the increase during the winter and spring months, though the data show the discrepancy persisted through the summer months.
"In fairness, the changes we are making, and continue to make in our system, have been disruptive for individual staff," she said, adding there are is a commensurate "short-term increase in costs," but argues it will help patients and staff in the long run to be working more efficiently.
If that’s the case, Jackson shot back, the WRHA should have hired on more staff instead of forcing them to spend less time with each patient.
"Phase 1 was supposed to increase patient volumes, but not enough nurses were hired to address that increase," she said, calling for the reform to be slowed down.
The MNU also pointed to three units that have seen a disproportionate increase in overtime, all of which Jackson argues puts patients at risk: emergency, critical care and medicine.
The WRHA rebutted the emergency department will receive an unnamed number of staff from Concordia Hospital and Seven Oaks General Hospital, that critical care will have four more staff once they complete complex training by February, and the number of medicine beds will not be changed in Phase 2.
After the Free Press contacted the WRHA late Wednesday about the overtime data, the health authority posted Thursday morning data on wait times that showed a decrease at the Grace Hospital emergency room.