Manitoba nurses are calling for action to address a critical staffing shortage and poor working conditions Friday.
It’s part of the Nurses’ Day of Action, an event happening simultaneously across the country in support of issues facing the profession — which have been exacerbated thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) told 680 CJOB there are more than 2,200 vacant positions in the province right now — a number she’s expecting to grow.
Earlier in September, the COVID-19 ward at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital alone saw seven staff leave in only nine days.
“You can have as many hospital beds as you want, but if you don’t have a nurse beside that bed, it’s just a bed,” Jackson said.
“And that’s what we’re finding in Manitoba, especially — we have many many beds, many units that are closed and can’t be open because we don’t have the nurses to look after those patients.”
Jackson said every area in Canada is facing a similar crunch, but Manitoba’s situation is made worse by healthcare cuts prior to the pandemic even beginning.
“Following the constant closures that happened in Manitoba and within the city, we started to really see nurses leaving. We started to see shortages, and we’re now at a point where we’re seeing a critical nursing shortage,” she said.
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“I’m choosing to retire, even though I would have stayed in the profession another five years if I was working in a reasonable situation where I wasn’t mandated to work 16 hours every shift I go to work.”
The MNU, which represents upwards of 12,000 nurses of all designations across the province, was represented at the Manitoba Legislature on Friday morning for a press conference, alongside NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara, and Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck.
In a statement, Manitoba health minister Audrey Gordon said the province is committed to supporting the nurses.
“The pandemic has imposed tremendous pressures and burdens on our dedicated nurses and compounded other long-term structural barriers within our health care system,” said Gordon.
“The unmanageable number of bargaining units contributing to increased overtime and work-load pressures has been addressed, and all health care employers and MNU are working together on additional measures to improve work-life balance.
A spokesperson for Shared Health said talks are ongoing to improve the nurses’ situation.
“Intensive bargaining negotiations with the MNU, through an ongoing mediation process, are continuing towards a new, fair and long-term agreement for all of our nurses,” the spokesp[ersoGeneral wage increases with significant retroactive effect and other monetary proposals, along with further measures to support recruitment and retention and improved work/life balance, have been advanced and progress continues.