7 staff members at St. Boniface Hospital’s COVID-19 unit resigned in 9 days: memo

St. Bonificace Hospital has seen seven staff resignations in the span of nine days in one of its COVID-19 units, according to a memo emailed to staff at the Winnipeg hospital.

The email was sent by hospital management to staff on Sept. 10. It outlined “risks” for the 6A unit, where COVID-19 patients are treated.

“It’s been too long of a time without any support,” one of the nurses who resigned from the unit told CBC News.

CBC is protecting her identity because she wants to work in another department of the hospital and fears career repercussions for speaking on the record. 

The nurse said for a period, she was scheduled to work seven days in a row in the COVID-19 unit of St. Boniface Hospital. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“It’s a horrible thing to see. There doesn’t seem to be any thought given to the acuity of patients and the nursing care that’s required,” she said through tears. 

“You’re almost always walking into an unsafe situation, basically putting your licence on the line,” the nurse said. 

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority confirmed there have been nursing departures from the hospital’s two COVID-19 units. 

Staffing in the units is supplemented by the use of overtime and nurses from other medicine units, the health authority said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

The WRHA says no COVID-unit beds have been closed recently or are being closed as a result of the recent departures and staffing challenges. 

‘Don’t have the tools’ to help patients

The nurse said for a period of time, she was scheduled to work seven days in a row in the hospital’s “red zone,” where COVID-19 positive patients are treated.

“You never know when you go in if you’re going to be pulled to another unit, if you’re going to be working short or if you’re going to be forced to stay an extra shift, up to 16 hours. It’s quite stressful,” she said. 

She questions how the COVID wards will be staffed during the fourth COVID-19 wave. The province’s chief medical officer said Monday that Manitoba is very likely at the start of that fourth wave.

The nurse said she resigned from the unit because she wants to have more control over her life.

She said she wants to work in an area that will provide a reliable schedule and is well staffed, “where you’re not scrambling to help a patient and you don’t have what you need, you don’t have the tools.”

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said there are currently 2,000 nursing vacancies in the province, including 1,500 in Winnipeg alone.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson says there are 2,000 nursing vacancies in the province. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“When COVID’s over, the pandemic will be done but the nursing shortage won’t be unless this government takes some really direct action,” she said. 

“That means ensuring that nurses are able to provide the care they need to provide.”

‘Everybody has a breaking point’: doctor

Dr. Anthony Battad, an internal medicine physician at St. Boniface Hospital, said the number of patients at tertiary care hospitals (those that provide specialized care) jumped within the last 18 months, which heightened the workload for staff.

“The rate at which we give care is so high and stressful that it’s causing people such angst that they feel they can no longer continue doing their job,” Battad said. “Everybody has a breaking point.”

Dr. Anthony Battad says many of the nurses resigning are senior nurses, who hold institutional knowledge. (Submitted by Anthony Battad)

Battad said many of the nurses resigning are senior nurses, who mentor junior nurses and medical residents.

“They are, you can say, the corporate memory of the system,” he said. “So when we lose them, it’s not just the loss of one nursing position, it’s actually a pretty much bigger loss than that.”

In August, emergency staff from St. Boniface Hospital pointed to a nursing shortage and a lack of beds to meet rising patient volumes in its emergency department. 

Terence Gee, 71, died after going into cardiac arrest at St. Boniface Hospital’s ER last month. He was unmonitored and waited four hours for care.

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