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Manitoba ER nurses say they feel abandoned by province, union and Left out of the COVID-19 pay bump.

Posted in Canada, Featured

Published on February 10, 2021 with No Comments

10 nurses in 4 hospitals say pandemic pay deal disregarded their role as front-line caregivers.

An emergency room nurse at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital is struggling to provide care to three patients with COVID-19.

Two of them are screaming at her. They want to leave the ER. They’re homeless. She’s scrambling to find them a place in Winnipeg where they can self-isolate.

Meanwhile, an elderly woman has been rushed in from a personal care home unable to breathe. Her COVID-19 symptoms are so severe, the nurse has been told the woman will die.

“You just look at it and go like, ‘I can’t. I’m one person,'” the nurse told CBC News later, through tears. “How do you decide where to go? How do you decide who to look after?”

She knew if she didn’t stop the first two patients who were homeless from leaving the ER, they could spread COVID-19 in the community. She had no choice but to leave the elderly patient, she said.

“To know that there was someone dying alone in a room, and there was no help — no one was with her. I’ve never had a day like that before,” the nurse said.

“It still bothers me,” she said. “I just keep thinking if that was a family member of mine.”

10 emergency room nurses who work in Winnipeg and surrounding areas — from St. Boniface Hospital, Health Sciences Centre, Grace Hospital and Selkirk Regional Health Centre — and say they feel abandoned by Manitoba’s Department of Health and their own union. It has agreed to withhold their names because they fear they could lose their jobs for speaking out.

In December, the province signed a deal with the Manitoba Nurses Union to provide a temporary pay bump to nurses working in intensive care, COVID-19 wards, and personal care homes. The emergency room nurses were left out of the deal.

“The [agreement] completely disregarded emergency,” one nurse said. “Our union didn’t even acknowledge that that had happened.”

After that, more than 200 ER nurses signed a letter to the province and their union looking for more support. 

The ER nurses say they face serious risks in the pandemic the public might not be aware of.

Most patients enter the hospital through the emergency department. That means ER nurses often screen, test, and treat people for COVID-19 before they are triaged elsewhere.

And unlike those working in intensive care units (ICUs) or COVID wards, ER nurses don’t know whether someone being rushed into their care has the virus or not.

They’ll do CPR not knowing whether the person they are trying to save is infectious, they said.

“They’ve got their faces down doing compressions on a patient. You’re probably six inches away from their face while you’re doing this. So you’re high, high risk,” one nurse said.

Some ER nurses with more than a dozen years of experience say they’ve never dealt with this many severely ill patients at a time — or this much death.

When someone dies, the nurses said they don’t have time to comfort families — they have to run to the next emergency.

“It is heart-wrenching to hear people grieve … I’m embarrassed with the way we care for these people’s families,” one nurse said. 


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