Growing Number of RN Positions in Western Manitoba Going Unfilled – and It’s Costing Prairie Mountain Health financially.
As of July this year, 24.3 per cent of those jobs were vacant, according to documents obtained by Manitoba’s opposition NDP through an access to information request. At that time, the health authority had a total of 1,068 nursing positions and 259 vacancies.
That’s up from the 22.4% vacancy rate reported in January, when Prairie Mountain had 1,050 positions and 235 vacancies, the documents show.
As of mid-2020, Prairie Mountain’s vacancy rate was still below 20%. The health authority said at the time that 19% of positions were vacant, according to the documents.
The rising vacancy rate demonstrates a problem the Progressive Conservative government cannot ignore, said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
“There is a health care crisis in the Westman [region]across Parkland, and this premier, and their government, refuses to recognize that,” Kinew said during Question Period in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.
Half of vacancies in some hospitals
Some of the worst vacancy rates are in the communities of Grandview, where four of seven vacancies are unfilled, and Killarney, which lost two nurses in the first half of 2022, leaving 11 of 21 vacancies.
Grandview lost emergency services on weekends this summer due to staffing shortages.
In July, there was also a vacancy rate of 40% in Roblin and Reston, 39% in Dauphin Hospital and 18% in Brandon.
Within individual properties, the vacancy rate can fluctuate wildly, as some small town properties with small staff can skew the average by having few or no openings.
To fill the gaps, Prairie Mountain spent $10 million over a five-month period (February to June 2022) to hire nurses from private agencies.
If this trend continues, Prairie Mountain is on track to spend $24 million on agency nurses in 2022, more than half of what all Manitoba health authorities spent on private nurses between April 2021 and March 2022, according to figures from Shared Health.
NDP Health Critic Uzoma Asagwara said during Question Period that the government was actively undermining public health care by relying increasingly on private aid.
But the Progressive Conservative government said it was adding to a problem that all jurisdictions have.
“Nursing challenges are not unique to Manitoba. We see it across the country and, sadly, globally,” Health Minister Audrey Gordon said during Question Period. “But our government is tackling this problem.”
Manitoba has spent $19.5 million to add 259 nursing education seats starting this year as part of a multi-year commitment to add nearly 400 seats, the province said.
A Prairie Mountain Health spokesperson said the health authority is focused on recruiting staff and recently made presentations to fourth-year nursing students about its vacancies.