Low morale, mental health strains mounting for Manitoba nurses as pandemic continues

After battling COVID-19 through three waves, and a new one just beginning, some of Manitoba’s nurses say they have had enough.

Dr. Cheryl Cusack of the Association of Regulated Nurses of Manitoba told 680 CJOB nurses are struggling with depression and other mental health issues, including trauma, as a result of their efforts to save coronavirus patients.

And the collective low morale nurses have been feeling for more than a year is only getting worse, as staffing shortages continue to pile on the pressure.

Read more: Winnipeg losing ‘irreplaceable’ senior nurses: former ER nurse

“When family hasn’t been as accessible, nurses are the ones who have been there with the public,” Cusack said.

“That trauma is coming from seeing people on a regular basis who are passing away.”

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“Constantly they’re dealing with exhaustion, they’re dealing with short staffing, and they’re trying to be there with their patients and families — and then nurses are also people, so they have their own families and personal situations that they’re dealing with.”

Click to play video: 'Nurse shortage concerns' Nurse shortage concerns

Nurse shortage concerns – Jun 7, 2021

According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), the hours-long delays in hospital emergency rooms are approaching highs that haven’t been seen since 2014.

The WRHA says emergency room waits are up to more than two-and-a-half hours, with St. Boniface Hospital, Grace Hospital and Health Sciences Centre reporting an average wait of more than three hours — but in some cases, waits were considerably longer.

Beds are in short supply, and so too are the staff needed to care for the patients that occupy them.

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In June, the WRHA said the city’s three hospitals that still house emergency departments had the highest nursing vacancy rates in the city, with numbers close to 19 per cent recorded in the spring.

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Shared Health says there’s interest in the vacancies they’re posting, but the larger issue is training for specialized positions, which could take some time.

Lanette Siragusa, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer, told 680 CJOB that increased wait times are an issue that isn’t only caused by COVID-19 — but that the pandemic has still had a major impact.

“The wait times are up, partly because of staffing …  but we call this access block, where we cannot get the patients to the beds inside — the in-patient beds in the hospital,” said Siragusa.

“That’s part of a bigger problem, it’s called patient flow.

“It’s not a new problem, but during COVID we had a bit of a lull in the numbers of people coming to emergency and now we’re seeing those numbers go up — so the staffing is down, the numbers are up, and the flow isn’t moving as quickly as we need it to.”

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