Manitoba

Nursing changes will reduce need for overtime, WRHA head says

The interim president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says major changes affecting nurses in the city will correct an expensive mismatch between patient needs and staffing levels.

Réal Cloutier defends deletion notices to more than 500 nurses, promises to correct staff shortages

Réal Cloutier, interim president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, says vacant nursing positions mean many nurses work overtime. When hospitals are reorganized this fall, there will be a better match between patient needs and the staff assigned to care for them, Cloutier says. (Canadian Press)

Major changes affecting nurses in the city will correct an expensive mismatch between patient needs and available staff, the interim president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said Wednesday.

Nurses routinely work long days to cover staff shortages in the current system, costing the province money, Réal Cloutier said.

"We had a misalignment in the first place," Cloutier said, pointing to 400 unfilled nursing positions in the region. "The fact that we had these vacancies, we were generating a lot of overtime."

This October, more than 500 nurses will be issued what the health authority calls "position deletion letters" as part of its plan to replace emergency rooms at Victoria and Seven Oaks hospitals with urgent care centres and close Concordia's emergency room altogether.

Cloutier said the WRHA will expand Winnipeg's remaining emergency rooms — at Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital — and increase their staff numbers, as well.

The three hospitals losing their ERs will see the number of nurses cut because fewer nurses are needed for less acute care, he said.

"We're not changing the amount of care we're delivering. We're just changing how that care is delivered," Cloutier said.

Nurses who receive deletion notices will have the option of choosing a new position in their current unit, applying for another job or bumping a nurse with less seniority.

If they choose not to pursue those options, they will be issued layoff notices.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Sandi Mowat criticized the health authority Tuesday for giving the union no notice the announcement was going to be made, but she supports the plan — it was her union that suggested the process.

Manitoba Government Employees Union president Michelle Gawronsky said the deletion plan has injected uncertainty into the system and front-line health workers are worried about their jobs.

At Victoria Hospital alone, the union was told as many as 40 nurse aids and communications staff will lose their jobs and they have heard nothing about replacement positions, Gawronski said. Her members have not received the same job guarantee as nurses.

"In April the health minister and the WRHA gave us the security and the assurances that anyone that wished to stay and work within the WRHA, there would be work for them," she said. "That is absolutely not what we're hearing."

Cloutier, responding to Gawronski's concerns, asked for patience. The authority was focused on the nursing positions on Tuesday but more announcements will come regarding other hospital staff, he said.

Winnipeg is working on enhancing home care services and some of the nurse aids at Victoria, for example, may find work in that field or in personal care homes, Cloutier said.

"We're working under the assumption and the model that there are going to be positions available for people," he said. "We need to let the process unfold to see where everything lands."

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is working under a mandate from the provincial government to find $83 million in savings this year.

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

with files from Up to Speed and Sean Kavanagh