It’s alarming to see the lifeline of Thompson barely treading water as the understaffing issue continues to be a growing concern. Where nurses have been a shortage for nearly a decade, the past few years have taken a drastic dip making the Thompson Regional Hospital on the brink of massive changes, including potential bankruptcy.
Darlene Jackson; President of the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) expresses her deep concern for Thompson even from her residency in Winnipeg. “Thompson is suffering a very large nurse staffing shortage right now. The Vacancy rate in the Emergency Department in Thompson is 50%”
According to Jackson, if doctors or nurses haven’t lived in Thompson their whole life or have something to keep them there, often nurses come for only a couple of years and leave as quickly as they came. “So it’s difficult to recruit and retain in the North”.
“We’re seeing many nurses from the public heath care system move to a private for profit agency rather then work in the public system, and that’s very problematic for the health care system. When we talk about the tax dollars of Manitobans it comes out of our Manitoba Health Care budget to pay these agencies to provide staff, and it’s very problematic when we start seeing nurses leaving the public health care system to go to the private system, and often times in the same building where they were employed previously.
With such a mad rush from one patient to another complaints of neglect have filed in along with charges to improper care, this resulting in a vast majority travelling the extra 8 hours to Winnipeg to ensure a more trusted service.
“So what we see is a domino effect into the ER (Emergency Room) in Winnipeg” Says Jackson, “This is putting more pressure on us because we’re not in much better shape then they are”
For many years now, a 5% increase in salary has been the bonus of nurses working North of the 53 parallel, along with an annual retention allowance to beckon workers to Thompson. “This was highly effective” Jackson addressed, “However, with the cost of living and inflation rising all over this country, those initiatives are just not adequate enough any longer”
One department that has recently suffered in the Thompson General Hospital is the lab for essential health care services and testing. With only two employees in total over a 24/7 operating system, this section is at risk of collapse following years of chronic understaffing and departure of technologists.
According to the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP), the union representing 7,000 specialized health professionals across 44 professions, lab technologists are in high demand. Shared Health has not taken sufficient steps to recruit and retain diagnostics professionals in the North, despite the deteriorating situation in Thompson.
“We are burning out our lab technologists with unsustainable overtime and overwork caused by not filling critical vacancies. Meanwhile, other jurisdictions are outcompeting us when it comes to recruitment and retention incentives,” said Jason Linklater, President, MAHCP. “Saskatchewan is offering lab technologists a $40,000 incentive, yet Manitoba is still not doing anything to address grave deficiencies in staffing and working conditions to ensure we retain these professionals.”
MAHCP confirmed that technologists were not available to perform urgent tests on two emergency room patients, after working several days in a row without adequate time to rest. Lab technologists perform vital diagnostic tests used in emergency patient care to assess life-threatening conditions such as cardiac failure, renal failure, pregnancy complications, internal injuries caused by accidents, and more.
“The reality is that Thompson General Hospital lab has only been able to continue operating because of the superhuman efforts of two remaining technologists. Imagine performing intensive work that requires accuracy and attention to detail with one hour of sleep over the course of 48 hours? The current staffing situation is unsustainable.”
In November 2020, the lab’s seven technologists flagged the seriousness of the crisis in a letter to WRHA leadership. Then, in April 2023, MAHCP launched a campaign with the goal to secure much-needed staffing resources for the team, which was down to just two technologists.
“MAHCP is once asking again for Shared Health and government to take action. We can’t afford to lose any more technologists.”
Focussing on the preventative needs on the subject, Jackson stated that the Thompson General Hospital needs Government intervention; “We need the Government to look at a way to retain nurses, because if we don’t retain the nurses that we have in the system right now then there’s no way the system is going to survive. The Government is going to have to be creative in coming up with initiatives that will make nurses stay”.
~Matthias J. Johnson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Thompson Citizen. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.