Nurses across Manitoba are wearing white on Wednesdays in a show of solidarity for patient safety — and each other — during what many nurses describe as a time of great disruption and change.

The initiative, which began in other provinces, was launched in July by the Manitoba Nurses' Union and the movement of "Wear White Wednesdays" is slowly gaining momentum across hospital wards, clinics and care homes across the province.

"We're trying to promote safe patient care and gain public awareness that we're advocating for safe patient care," said Karen Tessier, a registered nurse at Vista Park Lodge, a long-term care facility in Winnipeg. "What we're trying to do is show through lots doing it at once, showing more of a commonality so people are noticing … we're doing it for everybody."

Nurses are also wearing white to raise awareness about the continuing cuts to the health-care system, says Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union.

According to the union, close to 2,000 nurses across the region have been moved or are in the process of changing rotations, bumping their co-workers and finding new positions, and are experiencing unprecedented uncertainty.

"Decreased nursing staff? Decreased health-care staff? Does that not impact patient care? There's a worry that there will be things missed because of decreased resources," Mowat said.

The colour white — historically worn by nurses — is generating honest conversations between them and patients, Mowat adds.

"They're explaining to them that they're standing up for their patient care and that they are concerned about the ongoing cuts throughout the system and what that impact is going to have on patient care."

'Too early to be congratulating themselves'

Mowat says anecdotal stories have already emerged from nurses since the closure of the Misericordia Urgent Care Centre and the conversion of the Victoria General Hospital to an urgent care centre of concerns for the safety of patients as a result of increased workloads, staffing changes and stress, particularly at the Grace Hospital.

However, last week the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority held a news conference to announce reductions in wait times in emergency departments and patient numbers at some sites. 

"I think it was much too early to be congratulating themselves," Mowat said. "It's really only been three weeks, now we're into the fourth week ... and talking about wait times that early in the whole change to the system I think is premature." 

Mowat says nurses spend years honing their skills, expertise and become part of the care team of their particular unit, and "moving people around" isn't always the best thing for the system.

Tessier's patients are mainly elderly and require long-term care for physical and mental conditions, such as dementia. After 16 years working with them, she hasn't lost her passion.

"Knowing the person well enough to know when there's a change and then trying to figure out what that change means to them medically, I feel very strongly that these people don't have a voice," Tessier said.

Fear of job loss

Several nurses from hospitals across Winnipeg have come forward to CBC News with concerns for patient care and safety in recent weeks, but don't feel comfortable speaking out out of fear they'll lose their jobs.

Groups wearing white are one way nurses can be heard, Tessier says.

Another is by a petition, putpatientsfirst.ca, launched by the Manitoba Nurses Union, which garnered more than 1,200 signatures on the first day and now has more than 7, 000.

"I don't think that any nurse in the system should feel alone," Tessier said. "That we should feel that we're all supporting each other every day, but especially when there's changes, to help us navigate life."

Mowat said nurses are being encouraged to fill out safe-patient forms and speak to their unions and managers when concerns arise.

In the meantime, on Wednesdays, many wear white.

"This is just an ability for us to say, 'We are standing up for you, Manitobans," and we are there to make sure you're having quality patient care and we will continue to speak up on your behalf."