Manitoba

Safety concerns, staff shortages could prompt nurses to boycott Health Sciences Centre

The Manitoba Nurses Union says if changes aren't made soon to the way the Health Sciences Centre is staffed, it is going to recommend against nurses working there.

Union says if it doesn't see improvements soon, it will encourage nurses to avoid work at Winnipeg hospital

The Health Sciences Centre is the largest hospital in Winnipeg and one of the largest in Canada. It serves the residents of Manitoba, northwestern Ontario and Nunavut. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The Manitoba Nurses Union says if changes aren't made soon to the way the Health Sciences Centre is staffed, it is going to recommend against nurses working at the Winnipeg hospital.

"I think what's most important is to see some action from the employer, to see the employer actually acknowledge that the nurses' concerns that they have been voicing for a very long time are valid, and that there are places that we can make improvements right now," MNU president Darlene Jackson said Friday.

"That's the goal — to start getting some improvements put in place in that facility right now so nurses are going to work in a situation that is safe."

If the union doesn't see that kind of commitment soon, it intends to take action known as grey-listing. It has asked the MNU board of directors to sanction the move.

Grey-listing is similar to a boycott in that nurses would be advised not to apply to work at that hospital.

The last time the MNU members grey-listed a hospital was in 2007, when they had concerns about patient safety at the Dauphin Regional Health Centre.

The primary concerns at HSC are the levels of violence — including assaults and threats with weapons — and staff shortages, Jackson said.

Since the consolidation of emergency services at three Winnipeg hospitals, including HSC, nurses there are dealing with exceptionally high numbers of the sickest of the sick, Jackson said.

The Health Sciences Centre is the largest hospital in Winnipeg and one of the largest in Canada. It serves the residents of Manitoba, northwestern Ontario and Nunavut.

The MNU has nearly 3,000 members at HSC and yet "nurses are basically working flat-out at that facility," Jackson said.

The Manitoba Nurses Union has nearly 3,000 members at Health Sciences Centre and yet 'nurses are basically working flat-out at that facility,' union president Darlene Jackson says. (Canadian Press)

That also leads to concerns about the levels of patient care they are able to offer, she said.

"HSC is the flagship facility of this province. In order to ensure that those nurses are being supported to provide safe, quality patient care, they need adequate numbers of staff — and not just nursing staff. They need to be supported by allied health workers," she said.

The concerns have been brought to the attention of HSC administration but have fallen on deaf ears, Jackson said.

Jackson couldn't say when the union's board will make a final decision on whether to grey-list HSC.

"We are meeting with hospital and government officials to try and resolve the situation. At the end of the day, we need to do what's best for patients and nurses at that facility," she said.

Discussions continuing: Minister, Shared Health

In a statement emailed Friday, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said his department has been working diligently to stabilize Winnipeg's health-care system following significant changes.

Those changes, he said, "were overdue and based on report recommendations commissioned by the former NDP government."

He said he has met with the union's leadership several times to hear their concerns and discuss ways to move forward. 

"I have recommended to MNU that we continue to meet on a regular basis, to stay on top of issues of mutual concern and monitor progress on filling vacant positions and stabilizing the work environment," he said. 

His department will continue to collaborate with the MNU to streamline the hiring process, which will speed up filling open nursing positions at HSC and throughout the province, Friesen said.

"Other initiatives are also underway or planned to shorten the hiring process."

A spokesperson for Shared Health, the authority responsible for HSC, also said in an emailed statement that the organization is committed to ongoing discussions with nurses and their union in the months ahead.

Engaging with nursing staff and their union about their concerns has been "a significant focus over the past several months," the Shared Health spokesperson said.

"At HSC, the safety of our staff and patients is a top priority. Many of the challenges raised with us by nursing staff are long-standing issues that both Shared Health and HSC leadership are committed to working together to address collaboratively with our staff," the statement says.

"While some challenges can be addressed imminently through site-level changes, others will require a system-level approach over time."

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