Manitoba

Province spending $482K to train more respiratory therapists at University of Manitoba

The provincial government is spending over $482,000 on expanding the University of Manitoba's respiratory therapist program, to help address a labour shortage that's been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

4 new training spots will be added to the U of M program this month

The provincial government is spending over $480,000 to expand the University of Manitoba's respiratory therapy training program. (Shutterstock)

The provincial government is spending over $482,000 on expanding the University of Manitoba's respiratory therapist program, to help address a labour shortage that's been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced Wednesday that four more seats will be added this month to the three-year undergraduate program, for a total of 20 seats, at the province's only respiratory therapist training program.

Respiratory therapists are specialized health-care professionals trained to diagnose and treat patients requiring basic and complex cardiopulmonary services. They work closely under the direction of a medical doctor.

The almost half-million-dollar funding will offset some of the operating costs for the new seats, including providing the necessary equipment.

"We know from Statistics Canada that they've identified a labour shortage for respiratory therapists in Canada over the next 10 years, with an estimated 20-25 per cent vacancy rate in Manitoba," Dr. Peter Nickerson, vice-provost (health sciences) and dean of the University of Manitoba's Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, said at Wednesday's announcement.

"This [shortage] has already started putting a strain on acute care services and emergency transportation and the care of chronic conditions in the community," he said.

Class of 2022 respiratory therapy graduate Lisa Birchard said the demand for respiratory therapists in Manitoba has grown recently as respiratory illnesses like the seasonal flu are more prevalent this time of year. (Ian Froese)

To help address this shortage, Manitoba's regulatory body allowed 13 students to graduate from the respiratory therapy program a month early in fall of 2021. The shortage has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Between 65 and 70 people apply every year for the program.

Uzoma Asagwara, health care critic for the Opposition New Democrats, accused the Progressive Conservative government of generally approaching health care from a place of wanting to make cuts. 

Asagwara pointed to Health Sciences Centre, Seven Oaks and Concordia hospitals in 2020, suggesting all three were 20 per cent short on respiratory therapists.

"It will take three years to see these therapists actually working in hospital, and in the meantime, without a focused a retention strategy, Manitoba will continue to lose frustrated and overworked frontline staff," Asagwara said in a statement. "Investing in training alone will not fix health care, it will also take repairing the relationship with health care workers who have been mistreated and ignored since the PCs took office."

Lisa Birchard, a class of 2022 respiratory therapy graduate, said the demand for respiratory therapists in Manitoba has grown in recent days as respiratory illnesses like the seasonal flu are more prevalent this time of year.

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