Staff absences in Winnipeg health region rise by 21.2% amid COVID-19 spread

Ever-increasing levels of COVID-19 in Manitoba are continuing to hammer health-care staffing.

As with many other sectors in the province, there has been a sharp increase in Shared Health staff off sick over the past two weeks, up 21.2 per cent, an email from a spokesperson said Friday.

Staff absences in the Winnipeg health region for the two-week pay period ending Jan. 12 was equal to 10 per cent of all hours worked — nearly 73,000 hours lost per week.

The equivalent of nearly 60,000 hours, or 6.78 per cent of all hours worked, was lost due to sick time during the previous two-week pay period.

This is a huge increase compared to pre-pandemic January 2020 when fewer than 39,000 hours per week, or 5.53 per cent of all hours worked, were lost due to staff absences, the spokesperson said.

That is an 88 per cent jump in time lost to illness or absence compared with the most recent pay period.

However, the sick time data is not broken down by reason for absence, the spokesperson said.

As such, Shared Health is unable to provide real-time numbers of health-care workers who have or are recovering from COVID-19, nor is it able to present numbers on the number of staff isolating while waiting on test results after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

Manitoba’s health-care system is responding to the increased sick rates by redeploying and reassigning existing and available staff as needed.

The hiring of staff into the COVID-19 resource pool to assist with staffing needs for a bevy of roles has also been expedited, the spokesperson said.

Since the beginning of December, 52 Shared Health staff have been reassigned to personal care homes, including 18 in the past two weeks.

Several hundred staff have also been deployed to acute care and other service areas since September.

Moreover, health-care workers with scheduled time off in January have been offered payment in lieu of vacation time, the spokesperson said.

Staffing resources have also been boosted by recent changes to the public health orders that shortened the return-to-work period for asymptomatic staff.

Shared Health continues to ask Manitobans to show support for its staff by getting vaccinated and receiving their third COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are able to, which will significantly minimize the risk of requiring hospitalization and further reduce the strain on health-care staff and hospitals.

Data relating to the number of health-care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 can no longer be considered accurate, the spokesperson added, due to changes in testing requirements.

For this reason, Shared Health has ceased reporting on this metric.

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