Nursing staff shortages pushing health system toward hallway medicine, union says

Closures and consolidations in Manitoba’s health system are causing staffing shortages at units across Winnipeg hospitals, leading to overcrowding and a return to hallway medicine, the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union said Wednesday.

More than 1,000 nurses rallied at the Manitoba Legislature Wednesday to protest changes to health-care system

Manitoba Nurses Union president Sandi Mowat speaks at a rally at the Legislative Building protesting the province's health-care cuts and changes. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Closures and consolidations in Manitoba's health system are causing staffing shortages in units across Winnipeg hospitals, leading to overcrowding and a return to hallway medicine, the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union said.

More than 1,000 nurses and their supporters rallied on the steps of the Legislative Building Wednesday to voice their concerns about the effect on patients and workers of the provincial government's health-care system changes. 

"I was actually at the Health Sciences Centre emergency last week, and they're actually using the hallway to put stretchers in so they can offload the patients. So we're moving back to hallway medicine, yet again," said MNU president Sandi Mowat.

She blamed that on changes to emergency room procedures that pull nurses from other areas to monitor patients while they wait to be offloaded.

The pending closure of the intensive care units at Seven Oaks and Concordia hospitals will also add pressure to the system, she said.

"We are having a bit of an ICU bed crunch right now, too. So where are these people that need intensive care going to be treated?"

In the past year, changes in Manitoba's health-care system have included the closure of the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital — which was converted to an urgent care centre — and the closure of the urgent care centre at Misericordia Health Centre, as well as the deletion of nursing jobs.

Although most nurses laid off as a result of the changes have been rehired, Mowat said many units have been left short-staffed.

More than 1,000 nurses and their supporters rallied on the steps of the Legislative Building. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Last month, the provincial government released preliminary year-end numbers showing wait times had fallen 16 per cent compared to the previous year, but Mowat said data from the last couple of months showed a sharp wait-time increase of about 50 per cent.

This has led to an increase in mandatory overtime at some facilities, including St. Boniface Hospital, Mowat said.

The government has blamed the flu for recent wait-time spikes, but Mowat pushed back on that explanation.

"The highest incidence of mandatory overtime is on their labour and delivery unit. So I'd argue that has nothing to do with the flu," she said.

With about a quarter of Manitoba nurses approaching retirement age, Mowat said the province needs a new human resources strategy. The last one was was done around 2008, she said.

"We need to know how many actual health-care professionals we need now, we need to know what we need for the future. And we need to be planning for that."

Although the province has not yet announced a time frame for its planned emergency room closures at Seven Oaks and Concordia, Mowat said she would like them to back away from the plan entirely.

The province needs a new human resources strategy for its health-care system, Mowat said. (Jaison Empson/CBC)