Nurses temporarily assigned to Winnipeg personal care homes are warning the “danger of redeployment” has left staff shuffling from home to home, risking COVID-19 transmission between facilities, compromising care for residents and overworking staff.

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Nurses temporarily assigned to Winnipeg personal care homes are warning the "danger of redeployment" has left staff shuffling from home to home, risking COVID-19 transmission between facilities, compromising care for residents and overworking staff.

Jamie and Mackenzie — not their real names — were part of a crowd of nurses redeployed from regular duties to the city’s long-term care facilities at the beginning of December.

Originally told they would help cover one or two care homes in their catchment areas, the nurses said they were soon asked to cover several different homes for just days at a time — with assignments changing rapidly, often on short notice.

"I was digesting the idea of having to learn how to work in a PCH, and I could probably wrap my head around one or two places, getting to know it and being there to help," Jamie said in an interview Friday.

"But when reality started to set in, we’ve been pulled from PCH to PCH, being told the needs have changed and they’re moving resources."

Anxiety set in quickly for the nurses as new care home assignments every few days brought new uncertainties to each shift.

"They don’t tell you if you’re going into a red zone or a green zone, you don’t know whether you need to come home and decontaminate. Is there going to be PPE at the door waiting for you or are you going to need to fight for it?" said Jamie.

"It makes you feel at times like you’re a burden, because you don’t know the facility and you don’t know a lot of what comes naturally when you’ve been in a place for more than one or two days."

The nurses said the workloads at each home have been "impossible," even unsafe, to manage as they are tasked with covering entire units on each shift, caring for 20 to 30 residents at a time.

 Night shifts can be even more dire: some care homes will leave one night nurse responsible for several floors, each housing several dozens of residents.

"There’s really a severe understaffing. To give good care and to respect the elders that staffing baseline has to be re-evaluated, and how we care for them needs to be reworked," Mackenzie said.

They noted long-term care is a specialty, not a task every nurse is trained for. While they understand the "unprecedented" situation calls for some sacrifices, Mackenzie said the constant reassignment with little training is severely "missing the mark."

"They’ve dropped us into those assignments... when we are under the impression we’re there to help. But it turns out we’re not there to help, we’re there to take a full assignment with next to no training," Jamie added.

"It’s extremely dangerous and unsafe and it’s not fair; it’s not fair to those residents, it’s not fair to their families."

The constant movement also presents a dire infection risk both to residents and to staff, who are moved between facilities or units with outbreaks to those without outbreaks on a regular basis, the pair said.

In the spring, the province implemented a single-site staffing rule for personal care homes to help prevent the infection risks of constant staff shuffling.

According to a spokeswoman for Shared Health, that order is still in place — but personal care homes are able to apply for temporary exemptions "should a facility experience a significant impact on their ability to staff appropriately."

"Exemptions may be granted in situations such as staff being isolated due to testing positive for COVID, or a close contact requiring isolation, or a high number of COVID positive residents who require a higher level of nursing care," the spokeswoman said in an email Friday.

Currently, nine care homes in Winnipeg alone have been granted exemptions, she said.

Now, a month into the redeployment, the two say communication from management has been scant, and nurses who inquire about the frequent transfers are told the health-care system is "moving resources" — a term that leaves staff feeling neglected.

"They’re dehumanizing the experience and they’re not acknowledging the caregiving that goes into our work," said Mackenzie. "So much is being expected of us without much consideration of the impact on us."

According to Shared Health there are currently 31 nurses redeployed to personal care homes in Winnipeg. 

They are entitled to premiums set out in a memorandum of understanding between the province and the Manitoba Nurses Union. The nurses, however, say they are required to submit their own timesheets, using personal time to consolidate hours worked across several facilities, sometimes having their compensation denied through "loopholes."

On top of complicated remuneration processes, some have felt "pressure" to give up vacation time and "pitch in," said Mackenzie.

It remains unclear, as the impacts of the pandemic continue in care homes and the health-care system at-large, when the redeployment situation will be re-evaluated.

In the meantime, the present situation is dangerous, draining and detrimental to the health of all affected, the nurses said.

"It’s just been so upsetting to feel like you don’t have any control at all, you’re being yanked from one spot to another, you’re expected to be a caregiver but it feels as though the care for the givers is gone," Jamie said.

Mackenzie added: "This is not sustainable."

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers
Reporter

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.