Nurse says St. Boniface Hospital staff facing burnout with overtime situation that's 'worst I've ever seen'

Nurses at Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital have been required to work overtime more than twice as often in the first six months of this year as in all of 2017, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Manitoba Nurses Union.

Already more than twice as many instances of mandatory overtime at St. B. this year than in all of 2017: union

The Manitoba Nurses Union reported 799 instances of mandatory overtime for St. Boniface nurses between January and June 25 of this year. In total in 2017, mandatory overtime was required for St. Boniface nurses 321 times, according to the union. (Shutterstock/John Panella)

Nurses at Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital have been required to work overtime more than twice as often in the first six months of this year as in all of 2017, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Manitoba Nurses Union.

The MNU reported 799 instances of mandatory overtime for St. Boniface nurses between January and June 25 of this year.

Between January and June of last year, there were 123 such instances. In total in 2017, mandatory overtime was required for St. Boniface nurses 328 times, according to the union.

One nurse at the hospital with more than 30 years of experience said morale has reached "a new low."

"I've never, ever seen it like this. It's by all means the worst I've ever seen," said the nurse, who spoke to CBC News on condition that her name not be used, out of concern that it could affect her job.

Previously, the nurse said staff were only mandated to work overtime due to unforeseen circumstances, like storms. Now, mandatory overtime is being used to fill empty shifts and vacation requests, and nurses are regularly working 16 hours in a row, going home for eight hours, and then returning to work.

"When you come to work, you expect to come and do your shift and go home. That's the expectation of everyone when they come to work, and that's not the expectation now. The expectation is that you're going to be used to fill [shifts]," the nurse said.

She worries that other nurses are going to get burned out, leading to further job vacancies as nurses quit or take early retirement.

"I can tell you right now of 10 nurses that are going to quit within the next year because of this, for this very reason," the nurse said.

The nurses union first raised the issue of overtime back in March, when the WRHA partly attributed the increase to a bad influenza season. Three months later, overtime hours have not come down.

"You can't continue to require nurses to do this," said MNU president Sandi Mowat.

"It's just not sustainable. And so we need to have some meaningful discussion about how we fix this issue." 

Increase began in January with job deletions

Mowat blames the soaring overtime on the disruption caused when more than 1,000 nursing positions were deleted in a scheduling overhaul in January. Although most of those nurses found other jobs within the health system, some departments — particularly the hospital's woman and child program — did not regain all the staff that were let go.

"The biggest challenge is in the labour and delivery floor, where many of the nurses that were deleted from there didn't select there, for a number of reasons," Mowat said.

"The fact that it already had a lot of vacancies, and there was already a heavy workload, so it's been a concern."

There are currently around 80 vacancies in the woman and child program, she said.

A spokesperson for St. Boniface Hospital acknowledged overtime rates are up significantly since January and said the hospital is working on filling vacant positions.

"While overtime is a reality in health care, the high numbers are unacceptable and unsustainable for our nurses," the spokesperson said in an email statement.

The nurses union's stats are based on overtime hours that nurses report to them. The actual total mandatory and voluntary overtime hours worked are likely higher than that, Mowat said.

"Certainly it increases sick time, and when there's increased sick time, you just have this vicious circle, because now the nurse can't come for her shift , and so the next shift is now vacant again, and you have to mandate somebody else."

The St. Boniface spokesperson said the hospital is "aggressively recruiting" people to fill vacancies, with 50 new nurses set to start working in July and August.

However the hospital "will continue to require overtime in the coming months to ensure nurses are available through all shifts to care for patients."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story referred to an increase in mandatory overtime hours worked by nurses at St. Boniface Hospital, as reported by the Manitoba Nurses Union. In fact, the union reported the number of instances of mandatory overtime, rather than the number of overtime hours worked.
    Jun 27, 2018 8:20 PM CT

About the Author

Cameron MacLean

Web Writer

Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.

With files from Pierre Verriere