A CBC News survey has found staff shortages and burnout are having a major impact on nurses in hospitals across Canada, including those in Manitoba.

CBC's flagship investigative show, the fifth estate, surveyed more than 4,500 registered nurses across the country and found, among other things, that 24 per cent of them would not recommend the place where they work to a loved one.

the fifth estate survey

CBC News surveyed more than 4,500 registered nurses from 257 hospitals in Canada. Among the findings:

  • 24 per cent definitely would not, or probably would not, recommend their hospital to loved ones.
  • About 60 per cent said there were not enough staff in hospitals for them to properly do their jobs.
  • Nearly 40 per cent suffered from a high degree of burnout.

Ruby Nishimura, who completed the survey, says she sees burnout regularly at the hospital in western Manitoba where she works as a nurse.

"We are very short of nurses," she told CBC News in an interview, adding that the problem is not unique to her workplace or Manitoba, but is felt across the country.

"The overtime that nurses do is unreal. It's not unusual to do 16-hour shifts regularly," she said. "Many departments run on overtime and double shifts. It happens, and it's difficult."

Nishimura said it puts enormous pressure on existing staff, and the heavy workload can affect how many nurses stay in the profession and for how long.

"We have to work harder at retaining the nurses we do have," she said. "We need to have nurses back at the bedside."

Manitoba Nurses Union president Sandi Mowat is concerned by the findings of the survey, but she says nurses have been putting up with the consequences of short staffing for years.

"We've been dealing with this for a long time and we still have not made any progress dealing with it," Mowat said.

Portage hospital has staff shortage

One nurse who filled out the fifth estate's survey singled out the hospital in Portage la Prairie, located in south-central Manitoba.

Mowat said a labour relations officer with the union contacted her last week about the high vacancy rate at the Portage hospital, particularly in labour and delivery services.

Nurses' comments

Some of the Manitoba nurses who responded to the CBC News survey left these comments:

"The public are generally unaware of how sick the health-care system is. Nurses and support staff are verbally abused on a regular basis, and there is also physical abuse."

"The word I hate most is 'budget.' These are people's lives. Why does the budget not allow for another nurse?"

"And my question to her was, 'Why do they have so many vacancies? Are there issues we need to be dealing with?'" Mowat said.

Jim Hunter, vice-president of human resources with the Southern Regional Health Authority, confirms that the Portage District General Hospital is dealing with a staff shortage, as are many of the hospitals in the region.

"This is not just a Southern Health Region problem. It's a Canada and U.S. problem," he said.

Hunter said the Portage hospital is running a vacancy rate of about 15 per cent in nursing staff, and that's a major concern.

Out of about 120 nursing positions, there are currently 20 vacancies of full-time nursing jobs plus other vacancies in term positions, Hunter said.

The Portage hospital is one of three major health centres in the health region, which consists of more than 20 hospitals and nursing homes in rural south-central and southeastern Manitoba.

With about 90 beds, the hospital offers specialized services such as obstetrics, emergency services and surgery, which are not available in all rural health facilities.

No service cuts planned

Hunter said the current staff shortage is not forcing the hospital to curtail services, but he said that has happened in the past.

"We are committed to patient safety. If services can't be provided, they'll be redirected [to other hospitals] — not only in obstetrics, but any area," he said.

He added that patients would be advised well in advance of any need to seek services, such as obstetrics, elsewhere.

Hunter said the health authority is looking for long-term strategies to solve the staffing problems.

He noted that in the past, one strategy was to recruit nurses from countries such as the Philippines. However, changes to licensing requirements for nurses have made that more difficult, he added.

In the short term, Hunter said it might be possible to bring about changes in the nurses' collective agreement to address the staffing shortage.

The contract for Manitoba nurses expired at the end of March. Mowat said she expects the union to begin negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement as early as June.

Mowat said workload will be the number one priority in negotiations.

With files from Vera-Lynn Kubinec, Alex Freedman and Holly Moore