Nurses in crisis over overtime: union (Manitoba)

Mandatory overtime has reached a crisis level for nurses at St. Boniface Hospital and workers in the program that cares for women and babies are bearing the brunt of it, the Manitoba Nurses Union says.

There have been as many incidents of mandatory overtime at the Winnipeg facility reported so far this year — 328 — as there were in all of 2017, said union president Sandi Mowat.

Most of them — 186 — were reported by nurses working in labour, delivery, recovery and the postpartum unit.

"The woman and child program is a big issue," Mowat said Wednesday. "They’re extremely short(-handed)."

Last weekend, four unit nurses reported they worked their eight-hour shift, then were told they had to work another eight-hour shift, making it a 16-hour day for them. Mowat said those are just the nurses who reported the mandatory overtime by filling out a form and submitting it to their union local.

"It’s all self-reported," she said. "If that much is mandatory, how much voluntary? We know it’s more than that. It is extremely concerning.

"There are lots of studies that show that with excessive OT, you’ve got nurses getting sick and then you have to fill those shifts."

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the province have been telling nurses that major changes introduced last October would help reduce overtime, but it appears the opposite is happening. Nurses are being pushed to compensate for poor planning, said the union president.

"Our government is aware of the staffing pressures at St. Boniface Hospital and have been in continuous contact with the WRHA on how to address this issue, as well as others relating to the transformation of our health-care system," Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

"We will continue to monitor the situation, but anticipate some of these pressures will be alleviated as the flu season winds down and current nursing vacancies are filled," the health minister said.

"In the meantime, we thank the nurses at St. Boniface Hospital for their dedication in providing quality care for Manitobans."

Winnipeg Regional Heath Authority chief nursing officer Lori Lamont told reporters at a news conference responding to the MNU’s call for action, flu season, plus "a spike in the volume of need for care for mothers and new babies — that has certainly challenged staff working in the labour and delivery area."

The hospital is in the process of hiring 33 nurses and seven positions have already been filled, Lamont said.

She said the WRHA does not track mandatory overtime, but overall overtime will be lower this fiscal year, thanks to the province-directed health-care system overhaul that is about halfway complete.

"From October until January, we saw a continual and steady improvement," Lamont said. "We’ve been challenged in January and February," but high rates of overtime during those two months isn’t unusual.

A hospital getting hit with a spike in flu patients in the winter shouldn’t come as a surprise to health planners, Mowat said.

"The issue with the woman and child program has been going on for several years, as births have increased but the infrastructure where they give birth has not," the labour leader said.

The province was expecting the new Women’s Hospital to solve that problem, but the Winnipeg health centre is behind schedule, Mowat said.

It may not open until next year and questions are being raised about whether it’s big enough, she said. "Now we’re hearing there won’t be enough infrastructure. It may already be too small."

The union leader said she’s happy to see job postings for nurses in the woman and child program at St. Boniface, but it doesn’t help in the short term.

"It takes a little bit to come up to speed," Mowat said, adding the MNU wants the region to bring in nurses from other departments who have experience and who could help out right away.

"We want to help solve this," Mowat said. "We can’t go on in the same manner. There doesn’t seem to be any recognition that they’re going to reach a point where it’s ‘who is going to come to work?’"

Published: March 21, 2018

Source: Winnipeg Free Press