Kinew says he'll hire more nurses but PCs say there's already a job for every nurse who wants one
NDP leader says ER wait times have increased but numbers are more complicated
Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew promised to train and hire more nurses in Manitoba while vowing to stop a current practice of firing them, something he says the current Tory government does.
Flanked by three current nurses, Kinew on Tuesday pledged $13.5 million over four years to hire new nurses in targeted areas, starting in acute care. He also promised $1.8 million to pay for 75 new nursing spots at Red River College.
"In a short amount of time Mr. Pallister has caused damage that will take many many years to repair," Kinew said, acknowledging it'll take years to restore 500 nursing positions he says Manitoba has lost due to a combination of them being fired, leaving the province, or just quitting because of burnout.
Kinew said if elected, he's committed to hiring 50 new nurses in his first year in office, once the nursing staffing situation has been stabilized.
St. Boniface emergency room nurse Christine Kennedy painted a picture of chaos since the Progressive Conservative government made changes to the health-care system that included closing emergency rooms.
"It's not just an electoral question; you're dealing with people's lives and it's more important, I think, than just saving a few million dollars in their election term," said Kennedy, who was planning to quit her job Tuesday to attend med school.
She said the closure of some emergency rooms has meant patients have to drive farther — something she said is putting lives at risk.
"If you have a cardiac arrest in St. Norbert, the ambulance has to drive by Victoria Hospital another 15 minutes to St. B. If you're in cardiac arrest, that could mean the difference between life and death."
Kinew said Manitoba has 500 fewer nurses since the Pallister government came to power in 2016 but the number isn't entirely accurate. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) said in June the province's overall nursing workforce in Manitoba had decreased by more than 550, from 16,622 in 2017 to 16,065 in 2018.
Nursing numbers are murky
But those numbers CIHI reported are more complicated and should be used with caution, according to the organization, because employment status is voluntarily reported by nurses and nurse practitioners.
"Due to voluntary reporting to CIHI of employment status in Manitoba, RN and NP employment numbers may be understated. Please use with caution," the organization clarified in July. Pressed on the accuracy of the numbers by CBC Tuesday at his announcement at Forth Cafe, Kinew responded by saying the numbers speak for themselves.
Data shows wait times improving
Kinew said ER wait times continue to increase at hospitals in the city despite official figures showing that while wait times have increased during certain time frames, the health-care reforms have created an overall reduction in wait times.
Annual reporting by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, using the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's own data, shows that while ERs in Winnipeg underperform compared to the national average, they have been improving overall since about 2015.
For example, in 2015, 90 per cent of ER visitors at Health Sciences Centre waited 4.8 hours or less to be seen by a physician. In 2018, that wait time improved to 4.0 hours.
Improvements at St. Boniface General Hospital have been even more pronounced. Kinew maintained patient care and wait times are getting worse. "People are getting sicker and people are suffering. Go back and watch the tape of what we just heard today. I'll put that up against any line that the Tories have," he told CBC.
Manitoba has more nurses than before: PCs
Progressive Conservative candidate Cameron Friesen (Morden-Winkler), who has been acting as health minister, said the NDP is fear-mongering and said there are over 300 more nurses in Manitoba now than there were when the NDP was in power in 2016.
"There is a job in this province for every nurse who wants one within the WRHA."
Friesen rejected Kennedy's assertion that patients lives are at risk by longer driving times to ERs.
"The issue is not saving a minute or two of travel. The issue is having that assurance that the medical care that you need will be present at the site to which you're going."
Candidate hints at nursing announcement
When he was asked if the PCs would create more nursing positions on top of current vacancies, he smiled and said:
"I would say stay tuned just a very bit longer for other announcements by our government when it comes to how we'll invest, not just in nursing in this province, but in a stronger health-care system for all of us."
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he would lift what he describes as a funding freeze on health care spending if elected but couldn't promise a number of nurses he would hire.
"Whether it's going to be 500 nurses or not we'll see, but one of the things that has happened is that people are burning out in the system because there just aren't enough people to do the work and it's not good for workers and it's not good for patients."
A spokesperson for Red River College said he couldn't comment on Kinew's announcement due to college policy.
With files from CBC's Kristin Annable and Erin Brohman