Manitoba

Treatment of colleagues during pandemic 'disrespectful,' retired Manitoba nurse says at rally

Kim Fraser hung up her nursing scrubs for good last year, but she's struggling to shake her guilt.

Nurses rally at Manitoba Legislature to address staffing shortages, poor working conditions in hospitals

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson speaks at the Manitoba Legislature in front of an empty bed, intended to underscore the fact that a hospital bed alone is useless without the staff to care for patients. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Kim Fraser hung up her nursing scrubs for good last year, but she's struggling to shake her guilt.

The retired nurse from Winnipeg, who devoted four decades to the profession, paused when asked how tough it was to walk away, while others on the front lines of a health-care system strained by the COVID-19 pandemic keep working.

"I still feel for them," Fraser said, fighting back tears. 

"I have so many friends [working] in ICU. I have friends that have been deployed from their jobs since November of last year with no end in sight. It's frustrating. It's hurtful. It's disrespectful."

Fraser was part of a rally on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Friday, as nurses across the country marked a national day of action to address staffing shortages and poor working conditions in hospitals.

She was a practising pediatric nurse until last December, when she became fed up with having to shift units and the toll of the pandemic's third wave.

"I had to fight for PPE," she said.

"That was my final straw, when my manager said, 'No, you don't need one, nobody else is wearing an N-95 [mask],' and I'm like, 'This is it. I'm done."

Kim Fraser said she feels guilty for retiring from the profession while her colleagues are overworked. (Radio-Canada)

Fraser wrote her resignation letter that night. 

The hospital wanted her to spend her final shifts in the adult medical intensive care unit, she said, which was outside her specialty as a pediatric nurse.

"This government is not valuing what a nurse does and why a nurse stays," Fraser said.

Staffing crisis

A simmering discontent among nurses in the province has boiled over as the pandemic persists.

The global health crisis put a strain on nurses already feeling overworked, underpaid and burned out, Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson has said repeatedly over the last 18 months. 

On Friday, she called on the contenders in the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party's leadership race to sign a pledge stating that as premier, they would work with the nurses' union to address staffing vacancies, focus on recruiting nurses and be "more open and honest" with the public about the challenges facing nurses. 

"We want all Manitobans to see what has happened to our health-care system," Jackson said.

Her union wheeled an empty bed to the top of the legislature steps, to underscore the fact that a hospital bed alone is useless without the staff to care for patients.

"The staffing crisis in nursing means that hospital beds just like this one become the norm, just regular beds if there isn't a nurse there," Jackson said.

Manitoba nurses and their supporters were part of a National Day of Action to call on governments to address the nursing shortage and their working conditions. (Ian Froese/CBC)

At the end of July, there were 1,393 vacant nursing positions across Winnipeg, the city's regional health authority confirmed.

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara told the crowd the Progressive Conservative government isn't treating the nursing shortage with the seriousness it deserves.

"You cannot fix what you won't even acknowledge," the Union Station MLA said, prompting some cheers from rally attendees.

The day of action was kept to a small crowd of around 25 people. Due to the ongoing pandemic, nurses were encouraged to watch a live stream on the union's Facebook page. 

Val Wotton spent 22 years as an emergency nurse at the Brandon Regional Health Centre. Early in the pandemic, she moved to working in the hospital's recovery room because the strain of working in emergency had become "just too much."

"I still love to be a nurse and I really care about our patients," she said. "We do what we can but, you know, we're broken. We're tired."

Working to address concerns: province

One way the province could show its support is to reach a new collective agreement with nurses, Wotton said. Salaries for nurses have been frozen in Manitoba since 2017.

Christina Woodcock, a nurse for 18 years, said the recent loss of senior nurses in the system has robbed her more junior colleagues of the opportunity to learn from experienced mentors.

Instead, she said, "we see a lot of mandating [overtime]. We see a lot of patient-to-staff ratios that are problematic.

"The more that this carries on, the more those senior nurses leave the system," she said.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the province is hard at work developing programs to educate and train more nurses, as well as recruit more nurses from other countries.

In a statement, she said discussions over a new collective agreement between health-care employers and the nurses' union are ongoing. Proposals with "significant retroactive pay" have been presented, she said.

Manitoba nurses say they're broken, exhausted and burnt out

2 months ago
2:04
Nurses took to the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building today on what's being called a National Day of Action. The Canadian Federation of Nurses held 15 rallies across the country to bring attention to hospitals being understaffed. 2:04

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Manitoba Nurses Union called on political leaders in Manitoba to pledge to work with the union to address challenges facing nurses. In fact, the union addressed that call to the candidates in the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race.
    Sep 18, 2021 9:42 AM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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