Manitoba Nurses Union urges province to slow down on changes as OT surges at Grace

The Manitoba Nurses Union is sounding the alarm over rising rates of overtime at the Grace and are urging the health authority to pump the brakes on more change.

More ER closures planned for next year; province says there's plenty of time to hire more nurses

The Manitoba Nurses Union is calling on the health authority to get overtime rates at the Grace under control before closing more emergency departments. (Submitted by WRHA)

The Manitoba Nurses Union is sounding the alarm over rising rates of overtime at the Grace Hospital, urging the WRHA to pump the brakes on more changes coming in the spring. 

Data acquired by the MNU through a freedom of information request to the WRHA shows a 32 per cent increase in overtime hours between January and September of 2017 and January to September of 2018.

In 2017, nurses worked a total of 14,498 overtime hours, while in 2018, nurses worked 19,169 overtime hours. The numbers only represent nine months of both years, as the data for the remaining months of 2018 weren't yet available.

"It's startling. We knew that there was overtime ... but this is more overtime than even I had anticipated, especially in the critical care areas," said MNU president Darlene Jackson.

According to the 2018 data, rates of overtime are significantly higher in critical care, emergency and medicine units than last year.

The data shows nurses worked 3,087 total overtime hours in the critical care unit, up from 1,743 hours last year, a 77 per cent increase.

In the emergency unit, nurses worked 4,705 overtime hours, up from 3,556 hours in 2017, a 32 per cent increase.

In medicine, there was a 69 per cent increase in overtime hours worked, from 1,952 hours in 2017 to 3,296 in 2018.

"I believe this is a direct result of phase one. We started seeing an increase in overtime and nurses started reporting more issues with overtime and more issues with staffing in October [2017]. Because of changes to healthcare system," said Jackson.

The Manitoba Nurses Union did not provide comparative overtime hour data from 2016.

WRHA chief nursing officer Lori Lamont said when looking at data over time, the reported overtime hours are not much different from the fiscal year for 2016, with the exception of a jump in overtime hours in December of 2017 and January of 2018 because of influenza.

The WRHA provided numbers to the CBC which showed an overall jump of 1,081 overtime hours between 2016 and 2017 overall, based on an eleven-month comparison of available data.

Lamont said for the past two and a half fiscal years, the Grace has hovered around 2,000 overtime hours per month, with some spikes due to influenza season in 2017-18. She added the health authority is actively recruiting to vacant nursing positions and plans to have them filled before Phase 2 begins in six months.

Lamont acknowledged it's hard on staff to be working overtime.

"It's not a fiscally sustainable way to operate our system so we do continuously look to ways to ensure we're addressing the drivers of overtime," she said.

Jackson said nurses are working harder, with higher nurse-to-patient ratios, and it's also taking a toll on their health and happiness.

She is urging the health authority to halt plans for more change until overtime becomes the exception, not the norm.

"Which is very short-sighted and not sustainable," she said.

"You cannot expect nurses to work this amount of overtime for long stretches without having a plan in place. We do need more baseline nurses out there, we do need to be very careful with how many patients each nurse is looking after and I think the government really needs to look carefully at how quickly phase two is going to happen. We need to fix this issue now before we move into phase two where we fully have another problem on our hands," Jackson said. 

Lamont said Concordia's ER is still targeted to close in June, and Seven Oaks in September. The majority of patient traffic will be going to HSC and St. Boniface, she added, not the Grace.

She added there are still six months to fill vacant nursing positions.

The Manitoba Nurses Union is sounding the alarm over rising rates of overtime at the Grace Hospital, urging the WRHA to pump the brakes on more changes coming in the spring. 1:38