Manitoba

Urgent care nurses in Winnipeg want the extra pay given to ER nurses

Urgent care nurses from three Winnipeg hospitals want to know why they have been excluded from a $6 per hour pandemic premium being given to their emergency room colleagues.

Exclusion is causing division among nurses, they say

Urgent care nurses say they undergo the same Winnipeg Regional Health Authority training as emergency nurses and they want clarification on why they aren't being paid the same. (John Panella/Shutterstock)

More than 100 urgent care nurses from three Winnipeg hospitals want to know why they have been excluded from a $6 per hour pandemic premium being given to their emergency room colleagues.

In an open letter sent out Wednesday, the nurses say the discrepancy is not only unfair but is creating a division among the two groups.

"Nurses all pay the same amount in union dues to ensure we all receive fair and equal compensation. This pay inequity needs to be addressed, and fair for all nurses in the profession, equal pay for equal work," says an email sent to CBC News from the nurses.

Three identically worded letters were signed by nurses at each urgent care centre — about 85 signatures in all.

The emergency departments at Concordia, Seven Oaks and Victoria hospitals were shut down and converted into urgent care centres by the provincial government in 2019.

It appears emergency department nurses at Health Sciences Centre, Grace Hospital and St. Boniface Hospital are receiving a $6/hour premium as an attempt to retain nurses due to a critical staffing shortage, the letter says.

The same shortage exists at the urgent care centres, the nurses say.

"Our health-care system is in chaos and as nurses we are sounding the alarm to advocate for patient safety, we urge the government and the employer to address this critical nursing shortage," the letter says.

"ER and UC wait times are at an all time high, admitted patients are waiting for days for a ward bed, and hallway medicine is a common occurrence."

Urgent care and emergency nurses undergo the same Winnipeg Regional Health Authority training and "many patients present to urgent care expecting the same amount of resources as an emergency department so we operate at the same level," the letter says.

Since May 2021, urgent care nurses have also been asked to take extra shifts at ERs due to the shortages, which underscores the fact the jobs are the same, the nurses said.

The three identically worded letters were sent out and signed by nurses at each urgent care centre, with a total of 85 signatures. (Supplied by Concordia Hospital urgent care nurses)

One of the urgent care nurses CBC News spoke with, who isn't being named over fears they could lose their job, said urgent care nurses are wondering why they're being overlooked and undervalued.

"We just kind of feel like we're disrespected and that we really feel like the WRHA or whoever is making this decision …really doesn't know what we face every day," the nurse said.

"I think they need to come to the front lines and talk to nurses so they can see the challenges and see what we need to do to have better patient care."

The open letter also asks for an explanation of the criteria used to give ER nurses a $6 an hour premium.

In a statement, Shared Health said a redeployment allowance was extended last month to include nurses working in four hospital emergency departments that had expanded ICU facilities: Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital, Grace Hospital and Brandon Regional Health Centre.

Shared Health said bargaining on behalf of all nurses continues with the Manitoba Nurses Union through a mediation process. Both organizations said the pay bump was the result of an order from the mediator in that process.

"The premium — provided to nurses reassigned, redeployed or working in these four [emergency departments] — reflects the specific impact caused by the significant movement of nursing resources within these facilities to support critical care," the statement reads.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew held a news conference Thursday, calling on the province to make things right.

"You're alienating nurses that we need to keep on the job and on a policy level, you're ignoring one of the strong tools — a financial incentive — that we have to address the staffing crisis," he said.

"We need to keep these folks on the job, first and foremost, but we also need to ensure that morale is high, and one of the best ways a government can do that is by showing them they're respected and by giving them these sorts of financial incentives."

Kinew said the government must address the staffing shortage in hospitals before the fourth COVID-19 wave crests.

"It's clear that the PCs have done nothing to increase staffing capacity. In fact, by mistreating nurses, they continue to make the situation worse," he said. Nurses in rural and northern ERs have also been excluded from recognition pay, he said.

A financial incentive could also draw in more staff, such as casual nursing staff and those who have left the profession but are still licensed, to work shifts that need to be filled, Kinew said.

"And that's what we need right now, especially as we look ahead to that fourth wave. We need to get every nurse who is licensed and able to help Manitoba patients at the bedside into the health-care system."

The Manitoba Nurses Union released a statement Thursday saying the pandemic "has wreaked havoc on our front-line workers and exposed the deep inadequacies of our current health-care system in Manitoba."

Without concrete and immediate plans to address the critical nursing shortage, the gaping wounds will continue to be covered with Band-Aids, the release says.

"If the province is serious [about] improving a very broken health-care system, they will recognize and value the crucial contribution of every nurse in this province and offer a fair contract before this situation is beyond repair," it says.

The union is currently in mediation with the province, trying to reach a contract agreement four years after their last contract expired, and the recent $6/hour compensation for the ER nurses was a result of a binding order issued by the mediator, the union said. The union wouldn't offer further comment, citing the mediation process's confidentiality restrictions.

"We are losing highly trained people who will be difficult to replace because the Manitoba government and Shared Health are burning them out," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said in a statement released by the party.

"Too many hours, no backup, and difficult work caring for people who are suffering takes its toll. This is not inevitable — it is managerial incompetence."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Jill Coubrough

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