Manitoba

Province increasingly relying on private nurses to fill gaps, document shows

Winnipeg hospitals, personal care homes and health care agencies increasingly hiring nurses from private agencies to fill gaps in the system, according to a document obtained by the Manitoba NDP through a freedom of information request.

Agency nurses needed to reduce overtime burden, Health Minister Friesen says

Health Minister Cameron Friesen acknowledged that the agency nurses were being brought in to fill gaps caused by the health-care overhaul. (John Panella/Shutterstock)

Winnipeg hospitals, personal care homes and health care agencies are increasingly hiring nurses from private agencies to fill gaps in the system, according to a document obtained by the Manitoba NDP through a freedom of information request.

The opposition NDP requested the amount of money each facility spent on agency nurses each month since April 2017. Although the numbers fluctuate each month, they trend upward.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew blamed the rising costs of private nurses on the provincial government's overhaul of the health-care system.

"You have this government that's launched this massive plan to reorganize health care, I would say cut health care, and they apparently don't have enough nurses on staff to keep the hospitals running smoothly," said Kinew.

In April 2017, the province spent $15,097 on agency nurses. Over the months since, the most the province spent in one month was $121,816 in January 2019. A significant portion of that came from St. Boniface Hospital, which spent $98,621 on private registered nurses.

Although the document doesn't specify which units the nurses worked in, Kinew said the expanding use of private nurses could be related to the increasing use of mandatory overtime in units like the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Boniface Hospital.

Although lower than January, February saw the second-highest monthly total spent at $76,316.

"At the root of all this is the fact that the government does not have enough nurses to keep the hospitals running smoothly, so they've got to turn to these private companies to fill spaces in public hospitals," said Kinew. "That doesn't appear to be good planning. It doesn't appear to be the right thing for patients and it's not good for health care in Manitoba."

In a statement, Health Minister Cameron Friesen acknowledged that the agency nurses were being brought in to fill gaps caused by the health-care overhaul.

"The modernization of the health-care system is ongoing, causing a temporary increase in usage of agency nurses in specialized areas, such as the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Boniface Hospital, and emergency departments at Concordia and Seven Oaks hospitals," Friesen said.

"These are interim measures that support safe staffing levels while reducing some of the burden of overtime on our staff."

As the overhaul progresses, Manitobans should expect the number of overtime hours and agency nurses to "stabilize," Friesen added.

With files from Ian Froese