Vacancy rate rises to more than 1 in 4 jobs at St. Boniface ER

Twenty-five per cent of positions in St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department are sitting vacant, as the Manitoba New Democrats pounced Tuesday on a new statistic while resuming its pre-election criticism of a health-care system they claim is in disarray.

Province says it has hired 128 employees at St. Boniface Hospital in the last three months alone

Vacancy rates at the St. Boniface Hospital's emergency room is the most pronounced, over the vacancy rates at the Victoria General Hospital and Grace Hospital ERs. (CBC)

One in every four positions in St. Boniface Hospital's emergency department is sitting vacant, as the Manitoba New Democrats pounced Tuesday on a new statistic while resuming its pre-election criticism of a health-care system they claim is in disarray.

In particular, the New Democrats zeroed in on the staff vacancy rate at St. Boniface ER, which was recently recorded at 25.8 per cent overall.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen shared the statistic at his department's estimates hearing on Monday, and the NDP brought it up on Tuesday, at question period.  

"We know that wait times are getting worse because this government cannot staff emergency rooms in Winnipeg and across the province," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said, in the first question period since the provincial election three weeks ago.

Vacancy rates 'unacceptable'

Vacancy rates at the hospital's emergency room have increased in the last few years, while the government undergoes a massive transformation of Winnipeg's health-care system, which included the conversion of three emergency rooms into urgent care centres.

An internal document obtained by the NDP shows 21.9 per cent of ER positions at St. Boniface were vacant at the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year, which rose to 23 per cent once the following fiscal year ended.

Recently, other hospitals have experienced sizeable vacancy rates, including 16.4 per cent at Grace Hospital and 15 per cent at Victoria General Hospital, but the issue is most pronounced at St. Boniface.

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara says Manitobans who need emergency care are the people who will suffer because of unfilled vacancies. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"The 25.8 per cent vacancy rate at St. Boniface is simply unacceptable," NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said after question period. 

"It doesn't serve families and all it does is further perpetuate harm happening to folks who are just trying to get good, quality health care."

Friesen argued the government has been busy with the largest health-care revamp the province has ever seen. He said that "because we are now stabilizing the system, it means we can focus on what is obviously the next challenge, which is filling vacant positions."

"Obviously, when we move around so many pieces of the puzzle — re-combining workforces, moving people from site to site — in order to streamline and make our system more efficient, there are changes involved."

A request for the government to explain when the vacancy rate reached 25.8 per cent was not returned. 

The province has shored up staffing levels in the last three months, Friesen said. 

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the government knows the number of vacancies at St. Boniface Hospital is concerning and is working to address it. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)

In that time span, 256 new health-care workers were hired in Winnipeg, including half of that total finding work at St. Boniface Hospital. Of the new hires, 56 people were brought in from outside the Winnipeg jurisdiction. 

"We are aware of the need to fill vacancies," Friesen said. 

"We know that traditionally, in this province, it's taken too long to fill vacancies in health care and we are working cooperatively, even with labour, in order to find ways to make that process go faster."

In question period, the NDP also called out the government for under spending its health care budget by $215 million, the province's annual statements show, money the NDP said could have used to bolster a languishing health-care system.

Friesen did not answer the question, but rather said he was warned of an "orange wave coming to the northeast part of Winnipeg," where some of the biggest ER changes occurred, but yet a number of his colleagues withstood NDP challenges and were re-elected last month.

"Manitobans know that we are investing in health care," he said.


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at