'It's frustrating, it's hurtful, it's disrespectful': Manitoba nurses rally to raise awareness about critical shortage
For nearly forty years, Kim Fraser worked as a paediatric nurse in Manitoba.
Fraser didn’t have immediate plans for retirement, until she hit a wall last November after working long hours and being denied personal protective equipment (PPE) while on shift.
"I was denied PPE on my point of care risk assessment and that was my final straw,” said Fraser, sitting on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature on Friday for a rally meant to raise awareness on the nursing staff shortage facing Manitoba.
“Had COVID not happened, I probably would still be working,” said Fraser, “But my life and my sanity and my self-preservation was worth it for me to retire.”
The rally was organized by the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU), with retired and active nurses brandishing a sign saying, “Without a nurse, a hospital bed is just a bed."
Organizers said the rally also functioned as a call to action for the province as nurses are stretched thin and some, like Fraser, are leaving the profession entirely.
“We are in a critical nursing shortage," said MNU President Darlene Jackson. "We can’t afford to lose another nurse in this system."
Nurses in Manitoba have been working without a contract for over five years, said Jackson, contributing to ongoing work-life imbalances that are affecting the recruitment and retention of nursing staff.
Jackson said recent efforts to improve staffing levels, specifically a $6 pay premium recently granted to ER nurses, haven’t improved the situation.
“Now we’re seeing nurses move from other areas of the system into ERs, which leaves gaping holes behind them,” said Jackson.
The MNU also sent letters to both candidates in the PC leadership race, Heather Stefanson and Shelly Glover, asking for their commitment in helping nurses if elected premier.
A spokesperson for Heather Stefanson’s leadership team said Stefanson would sign the document. CTV News did not hear back from Shelly Glover’s leadership team.
Christina Woodcock, a nurse currently working in Brandon, participated in Friday’s rally. She said normally there’s a one-to-one ratio for ICU nurse and patients, but that’s not the case right now.
“We’re now doubling patients up because resources are limited and patients are abundant,” said Woodcock.
“If the fourth wave is anything like what’s happening in our neighbouring provinces, I have great trepidation for what that is going to be like for nurses on the frontline,” said Woodcock
Marnie Houston, who needed to go to the Saint Boniface Hospital emergency room on Monday, said she experienced first-hand what current nurse staffing levels means for patients.
“Being as stressed as they are and being as few as they need to be right now, they can’t provide that level of service that we were used to seeing,” said Houston, who describes hearing intercom announcements asking nursing staff to pick up extra shifts.
“I didn’t get that support that I needed,” said Houston, “The nurses don’t have time – they really don’t. That’s the scary part because I know the nurses are there because they care.”
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Shared Health Manitoba said “system and clinical leaders have spent much of the summer preparing for the pandemic’s fourth wave” and “intensive bargaining negotiations (with the MNU) are continuing.”
“General wage increases,” the statement read, “along with further measures to support recruitment and retention and improved work/life balance, have been advanced and progress continues.”
Fraser, however, is still concerned for the safety of her former colleagues.
“I have so many friends that are in ICU, I have friends that have been redeployed from their jobs since November of last year with no end in sight,” said Fraser.
“It’s frustrating, it’s hurtful, it’s disrespectful.”