Manitoba

Province pairs nearly 230 health-care workers with child-care supports amid COVID-19 closures

The province managed to pair nearly 230 front-line health-care and other essential workers with child-care supports in the days before broad daycare and school closures came into effect, but unions say many families continue to struggle to secure child-care needs.

85 per cent of health-care, essential workers identified over weekend matched with daycares; province

Most Manitoba health-care workers with kids have child-care options taken care of, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

The province managed to pair nearly 230 front-line health-care and other essential workers with child-care supports in the days before broad daycare and school closures came into effect, but unions say many families continue to struggle to secure child-care needs.

On Monday, Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health, said "85 per cent of the health care workers have been able to successfully find or have daycare in place."

The department of families began trying to link up essential workers with daycares over the weekend 

A spokesperson with Families Minister Heather Stefanson said the department reached more than 900 parents in health-care, law enforcement, emergency response and social services over the weekend.

Of those, 267 were deemed "priority families" and 222 of them were matched with child-care facilities as of Monday, which works out to about 84 per cent, the spokesperson said.

Two unions that represent thousands of health-care workers say some of their members, however, remain without child-care.

"We're still hearing a lot of concern from nurses and from, actually, all health-care providers," said Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses' Union, which represents 12,000 nurses.

"We had a week's notice that daycares were closing, and not everyone has a family member or friend they can rely on."

It's been less than two weeks since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in Manitoba. As of Monday, there are 20 probable and lab-confirmed cases.

Premier Brian Pallister ordered licensed daycares and preschools to close by last Friday, though some were permitted to remain open for essential health-care staff. Small daycares run out of homes are allowed to remain open, with some conditions.

'Priority families'

Last week, the province earmarked $18 million in grants that will give out up to $3,000 to new home-based child-care centres that can handle up to 12 children. Any such child care providers can email the department of families (ecegrant@gov.mb.ca) to learn if they qualify.

"Thank you to all of the child care centres that have stepped up during this difficult time to provide child care to people who are working every day to fight this pandemic," a department of families spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Monday was also the first day where all schools in Manitoba officially closed for three weeks. On March 13, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced the extended suspension of classes from March 23 until April 13, to curb the potential spread of coronavirus.

'Still Struggling'

Jackson wants to know how many nurses and other kinds of health-care workers are included in that group announced Monday that have been connected with supports.

"We have no idea how many health-care workers accessed the site looking for child-care, so we're still waiting to drill down on that," she said.

"Eighty-five per cent is sort of an arbitrary number. How much volume did they have?"

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professional represents respiratory therapists, technicians at the provincial lab where COVID-19 testing occurs, and about 6,500 total across the health-care system.

"There are plenty of our members who are still struggling out there in terms, of No. 1, even accessing child care," said Bob Moroz, president of the MAHCP 

He said some workers MAHCP represents could in theory work from home — for example, social workers and counsellors, says Moroz — but have been classified as essential or front-line and are required to come in for work.

"When they call that [provincial] number they're struggling with convincing the people they're talking to that they are actually front-line and essential," he said.

Siragusa said health-care workers who are still having challenges finding alternative daycare can contact their employer, who will connect them with the department of families to ensure their placement is a priority.

Workers in essential service sectors with kids can also call 204-945-0776 or 1-888-213-4754 (toll free), or email cdcinfo@gov.mb.ca.

There are still child care spaces available to staff who work in health-care and other critical services, the province said.

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Bryce Hoye

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Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.