A group of Winnipeg doctors from all three of the city’s emergency rooms have written a letter to the province and to Premier Brian Pallister to express their “grave concern” over a shortage of senior emergency department nurses.
Signed by 64 doctors from the Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Grace Hospital, the letter documents what they call a situation that is “critical, unsustainable and in need of immediate action.”
“Many senior experienced nurses in our EDs have resigned, while many others are planning to leave,” they wrote.
“The reasons ED nurses are leaving are multifactorial, but in our view, the effects combine to make ED nurses feel undervalued, unsupported, abandoned, and frankly disrespected by their hospitals, the WRHA/Shared Health and the provincial government.”
Dr. Noam Katz is one of the physicians who signed the letter and said he is concerned his colleagues workloads are not sustainable.
“What we’ve seen is a progressive and very concerning decline in morale and the ability to to manage fatigue in any kind of reasonable way from nurses to continue to be able to function at the high level that we know that they typically do,” Katz said.
Katz said Winnipeg’s chronic nursing shortage has hit dire levels and beds in the emergency department are often closed because they do not have the staff.
“There is a very strong concern that the levels of of nurse vacancies is a critical point. We see beds that are closing. We see the morale of our of our colleagues and our friends that are really at rock bottom. And we don’t see any end in sight to this,” he said.
The doctors pointed out that ED nurses are dealing with “exceptionally high” workloads due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone who comes to the ED could have COVID, and the hospitals rely on our ED nurses to find and isolate COVID cases before admission.
However, Katz said nurses in the emergency department do not qualify for the same “danger pay” wage bump the province and the nurses union agreed to in December for nurses who are working in intensive care units, COVID-19 wards and long term care homes dealing with the virus.
“Our emergency services are actually one of the highest risk populations in terms of the risk associated with COVID patients,” Katz said. “So we don’t understand a lot of the decisions that have been made on that front and we certainly believe that our nurses deserve more recognition and support in this regard.”
With more senior nurses leaving and newer, junior nurses stepping in to fill the void, Katz and his colleagues are worried nurses without experience may miss things a senior nurse would, despite “their skill, training and enthusiasm.”
“These are situations that you can’t just walk into and expect to be good at,” he said. “It’s just not by any stretch the ideal situation. There is a concern that it could lead to inefficiencies in terms of our ability to provide adequate care. And there’s always that underlying possibility of medical error.”
Read the letter here:
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, nurses were complaining of an “overwhelming” number of patients being seen in some hospitals.
Nurses at St. Boniface Hospital penned an open letter in February 2020, worried about ER renovations, increasing wait times in the emergency room and areas meant to help violent patients going unused due to staffing vacancies.
Those concerns have only increased during the pandemic, according to CUPE 204, which complained last week that the health care staff it represents are being asked to perform nursing duties.
“The provincial government has made such a mess of health care that Health Care Aides are now being asked to perform nursing duties,” said CUPE 204 president Debbie Boissonneault.
The letter to the province is copied to Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, Doctors Manitoba, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, Shared Health, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the Manitoba Nurses Union.
It comes as nurses have been without a contract for more than four years, prompting talks of a strike, which nurses are voting on this week.
Global News has reached out to the province for comment.