Manitoba aims to add 2,000 health-care professionals to the public system with $200 million in funding announced Thursday.
The plan focuses on staff retention, training more professionals by expanding Manitoba health-care programs, and recruiting new workers through immigration and graduation by reducing barriers to getting into the system, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said Thursday in Winnipeg.
“This action plan is a critical turning point to address Manitoba’s health human resource challenges,” she said.
Among the initiatives are a commitment to ending mandated overtime for nurses, offering financial incentives for workers to take certain shifts, more support for mental-health counselling, and providing incentives to clinics that choose to stay open on weekends and evenings.
Access to care has been significantly impacted for reasons tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and a high turnover of health-care workers, particularly in nursing. A recent Doctors Manitoba survey also found one in two polled are in a high level of burnout, and two in five physicians plan to leave Manitoba, retire or reduce clinic hours in the next three years.
Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Thursday that retaining the roughly 40,000 workers in the system is the “first and most important pillar” of the plan.
Among a range of supports, she said financial incentives will be offered to staff to work weekends and to encourage nurses to work full-time hours if they aren’t already.
Manitoba is also going to cover the licensing fees of all licensed health professionals for two years and add more safety officers to hospitals, Gordon said, as well as boost the number of psychiatrists and psychologists at hospitals.
Supports for nurses
The province will also work toward ending mandated overtime for nurses, some of whom have been forced to work 14- to 16-hour shifts during the pandemic.
Gordon has asked the heads of health-care organizations to come up with plans to reduce the burden caused by “excessive” overtime.
“This is the right thing to do,” she said. “Respect starts with listening, and we’ve heard the concerns of front-line nurses.”
The province is working to form a provincial agency to reduce reliance on nurses from private agencies to fill staffing holes in the public system. Gordon said the work stems from an element of the Manitoba Nurses Union’s 2021 collective agreement.
Manitoba is also hoping to entice nurses who have left the system to come back by reinstating their seniority levels, and covering costs of testing and remedial training if they return.
On the recruitment end, the province will offer up to $23,000 each to international nurses working to get licensed to practise in Manitoba. Gordon said that jives with previously-announced initiatives aimed at making it easier for internationally-trained nurses to break into the Manitoba system.
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said the announcements are a “positive first step,” including the focuses on retention and attempts to lure nurses out of retirement.
“If we can keep them in the system, these are the nurses with the experience and with the skills to be able to really mentor and support other nurses,” she said.
Mike Nader, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, is also encouraged by reintroducing more retired nurses to the system and the planned addition of more safety officers.
Phasing out mandatory overtime in nursing will be challenging to pull off due to the present vacancies, he said, but necessary.
“Mandating is something that is absolutely killer for us in terms of our ability to retain and to recruit people … so it is something we absolutely have to do,” he said.
Step in right direction: Doctors Manitoba
The announcement comes two weeks after Doctors Manitoba, which advocates on behalf of physicians, released five recommendations of its own.
Those include offering more mental-health supports to address burnout among health-care staff, offering financial incentives to out-of-province prospects considering moving to Manitoba, and focusing on recruiting more doctors to rural and northern communities.
Gordon committed to doing the latter Thursday, and promised to work with Doctors Manitoba to strengthen physician practices in Manitoba and improve access to primary care, including through financial support for clinics that choose to expand evening and weekend hours.
The province is also moving forward with Doctors Manitoba’s recommendation to create a centralized hub where health-care workers can connect for advice on complex cases. The plan includes connecting rural and remote health-care workers with physicians who are emergency medicine specialists, in hopes of reducing the need for medevac transfers to hospitals in urban centres.
Dr. Candace Bradshaw, president of Doctors Manitoba, said it is a relief to see so many of the organization’s recruitment and retention suggestions adopted by the province.
Bradshaw said Manitobans continue to wait “unreasonably long” for care in emergency rooms, for surgeries and diagnostic tests.
There are 150,000 Manitobans without a family doctor because the province has the fewest in Canada, she said, and the closure of rural and northern hospitals is making it hard for people to access care.
“The causes of these problems are complicated, but often they all come back to one single common issue and that is shortage and burnout amongst our health-care workers,” she said.
The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, which represents 7,000 respiratory therapists, lab and diagnostic technologists and other allied health professionals, said it was not consulted.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t heard any details yet that will retain the thousands of experienced, specialized allied health professionals on the front line now and whose wages have been frozen for almost five years.”
“If they really want to give the front line hope, then our members need more details and substantive action now. “
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