Manitoba

Meetings with Concordia employees delayed as health authority scrambling to determine staffing needs

Health officials have postponed meetings planned for Thursday that were intended to provide clarity on the status of many jobs at Concordia, now that the Winnipeg hospital's emergency department will be converted into an urgent care centre.

Province announced last week Winnipeg hospital's ER will become urgent care centre rather than walk-in clinic

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has postponed two meetings planned for Thursday with Concordia employees. They were intended to provide details about staffing as the hospital's ER converts to an urgent care centre. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Health officials have postponed meetings planned for Thursday that were intended to provide clarity on the status of many jobs at Concordia, now that the Winnipeg hospital's emergency department will be converted into an urgent care centre.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority informed employees on Wednesday the scheduled town hall-style meetings, to be conducted by phone, would be delayed. A new date has not been scheduled.

The health authority is scrambling to determine staffing requirements at Concordia after the province abruptly changed course on the future of the northeast Winnipeg hospital's emergency department. 

As part of the Progressive Conservative government's health-care overhaul, the ER was originally scheduled to be closed and converted into a walk-in clinic next month.

The provincial government changed its mind last week and decided an urgent care centre at Concordia would be a better fit.

That means the hospital will require more employees than planned, as the urgent care centre, unlike a walk-in clinic, will operate 24 hours a day.

Status of jobs in flux

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says staff at the hospital need to know what's happening.

"This premier can flip on a dime, and change his mind about something. That's part of what makes this government so unreliable and hard to count on," he said.

The sudden change has left hundreds of employees in limbo.

Employees who would have lost their jobs with the ER shutdown, or bumped employees with lower seniority to remain at Concordia, are now unsure of their standing. 

The government's decision amounts to a retreat for the Progressive Conservatives, returning to a recommendation of three emergency departments and three urgent care facilities it rejected when Winnipeg's hospital reorganization began two years ago.

That original model — and the recommendation to change course on Concordia's ER — came from Dr. David Peachey, a consultant the government hired to write the report that became the basis for the health-care revamp.

Community residents have fought for Concordia Hospital to remain an emergency department, with hundreds of people attending a rally earlier this month. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The province has already shut down the urgent care centre at Misericordia Health Centre and converted the ER at Victoria General Hospital to an urgent care centre.

It also plans to convert the ER at Seven Oaks Hospital to an urgent care centre this year, leaving emergency rooms consolidated at St. Boniface Hospital, Grace Hospital and the Health Sciences Centre.

'The state of mind is very sad'

Debbie Boissonneault, president of CUPE 204, says when the Concordia ER closure was first planned, dozens of the employees her union represents had no jobs waiting for them, or agreed to take positions with fewer hours to remain at Concordia. 

"The state of mind is very sad," she said of the employees. "People are frustrated. They had to bump some people, right? They went into different areas."

Boissonneault says some employees agreed to go to another health-care facility, and may have made new personal arrangements for such essentials as child-care.

She is now expecting vacancies at Concordia's urgent care centre because employees went elsewhere.

To fill the gap, she expects staff to work more overtime hours and officials to hire more agency workers to cover vacancies.

Of the union's 465 members at Concordia, 308 received deletion notices. While many found new positions either at Concordia or elsewhere, 32 staff members did not. Four individuals retired over the uncertainty, Boissonneault said. 

She's happy an urgent care facility has been chosen over a walk-in clinic, but says the precarious nature of Concordia staff positions is not reassuring.

Nurses agreed to transfer

"It's better, but I would say for the ones that left that wanted to stay — because this is their home area and this is where they live, and this was their community hospital they worked in for 20 years — it's not good news," she said.

The Manitoba Nurses Union says 35 of its members agreed to transfer to another facility after learning Concordia's ER would close, but that may change. 

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals has 30-40 members whose positions were affected by the conversion.

Bob Moroz, president of the union, hopes his members who decided to go elsewhere won't be held to decisions they made when they thought Concordia's ER would become a walk-in clinic. 

He calls the urgent care plan a "small victory" since a number of his members likely won't have to leave the hospital, but he would have preferred that emergency care remained.

Operating Engineers of Manitoba Local 987, which previously had 17 members at the hospital, says a few of its members sought transfers to other hospitals in advance of the ER shutdown.

"It's hard to tell, as of now, what that change of course [at Concordia] is going to look like for our membership," said CEO Marc Lafond.

"It doesn't change the fact that a lot of our members have been reading the tea leaves," he added. "We had four individuals in the last little bit already leave the facility, not because of deletion notices, but just because of the uncertainty that's in the air."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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