Message from the President: COVID surge, new restrictions, MNU advocacy

Publish date: Saturday, October 31, 2020

COVID-19

Health and safety

Health care

Dear members,

Yesterday, government announced that as of Monday Winnipeg will be elevated to RED (Critical level) under the province’s Pandemic Response System, and all other regions will be elevated to ORANGE (Restricted level). The rise in COVID-19 case numbers has been dramatic, and we are strongly urging all Manitobans to follow public health orders to limit the spread.

As the most trusted professionals in health care, I know that MNU members are repeating this message to their family, friends, and colleagues.

The hospital system is at capacity, and flu season is upon us too. The coming weeks will be very challenging. While we welcome implementation of further visitation restrictions and the cancellation of elective procedures, we know there are still many serious concerns in your workplaces that have not been addressed. In many parts of the province, workload has already increased dramatically, and staff shortages have worsened.

I know many of you are worried about what this situation means for you and for your families. I share your fears, your worries, and your frustration. These are incredibly stressful, unprecedented times, and none of us know what the future holds. I believe government’s response has been much too slow and inadequate to address the significant needs in health care.

Despite these challenges, I am truly in awe of the continued commitment to your patients that Manitoba’s nurses are showing across the province. I applaud each and every one of you for your courage in this unprecedented situation.

MNU continues to push hard in a number of key areas. Before updating our broader advocacy efforts, I want to reiterate three important points:

  1. Regarding PPE: You have the right to determine the level of PPE required to care for patients based on your own professional judgement, using a Point-of-Care Risk Assessment. Upon request, employers are required to provide nurses treating COVID suspect or positive patients with a fit-tested N95 mask. Find out more in the MOA and Joint Statement that MNU signed with Shared Health in July.
  2. If you have any issue accessing appropriate PPE/supplies/equipment, are noticing any lapses in IPC or other protocols, or have other concerns related to health and safety, appropriate steps to follow are available here. If the situation can't be immediately resolved with your supervisor, please document it and contact your LRO or local/worksite president for support. If you are unsure who to contact, get in touch with the provincial office. You can also access our phone fanout through the Member Portal.
  3. Members who are temporarily redeployed may be entitled to additional compensation under the MOA that MNU signed in March. Full details are available here. Contact your LRO or your local/worksite president if you’re having trouble accessing these benefits.

Recruitment & Retention

We know workload is increasing dramatically in many parts of our health system. In the media and in meetings with the health minister and senior health officials, I have been adamant about addressing nursing recruitment and retention. The short-staffing and capacity issues we are dealing with existed before the pandemic, but they have been greatly magnified in recent weeks.

Even in today’s announcement, the Pallister government did not promise any investment as part of its efforts to bolster the number of nurse and health care professionals. This is terribly frustrating, and speaks to the misguided priorities of this government.

While we know the nursing shortage can't be addressed overnight, we believe there are two important steps the Pallister government can take immediately to help bolster staffing.

First, to support those already in the system, the government must create a central, rapid intake to speed up the recruitment process. We know there are more nurses out there willing to help.

Second, we need to incentivize recruitment and retention.  MNU continues to advocate for a wage top-up for all nurses to assist with recruitment and retention efforts.

Other jurisdictions have made investments to recruit and retain nurses in a variety of ways. For example, Ontario has invested more than $50 million to support their recruitment efforts, and BC provided a wage top-up for all health care workers during the pandemic. Manitoba failed to make similar investments, and excuses are running short. This is a policy decision, and it can be done!

Testing and Contract Tracing

We've been very vocal on the critical need to expand testing and contract tracing capacity in public health, including in our media statement yesterday.

It's also clear that too many of our health care facilities in Manitoba are experiencing outbreaks, and we need to respond with rapid testing and contract tracing quickly to contain the spread. Limited access to rapid testing is being rolled out in some facilities, but it’s not happening fast enough. We’re also aware that many nurses are experiencing delays dealing with Occupational and Environmental Safety & Health (OESH) because of significantly increased demand.

We’re calling on government to expand access to rapid testing for patients and staff at all facilities experiencing outbreaks, and for all new admissions to health facilities. We’ve also repeatedly advocated for resources to be added to OESH.

Further, we know that surveillance testing in some facilities has revealed large numbers of asymptomatic, COVID-positive residents. MNU believes that containing an outbreak situation requires clear knowledge of the extent of the outbreak, and as such we’re also calling for surveillance testing when outbreaks occur in health facilities.

Presumptive WCB Coverage

In the spring, the Pallister government implemented paid leave for asymptomatic workers only.

Unfortunately, symptomatic workers are still required to apply for WCB coverage, and must demonstrate that they contracted the illness at work.

MNU recommends that any member who has had exposure to a COVID positive patient or coworker should submit a WCB claim. Steps for filing a claim can be found here.

We continue to call on the Pallister government to introduce legislation extending PRESUMPTIVE WCB coverage to all nurses that contract COVID-19.

Note that members who are off work for COVID-related reasons and have exhausted their sick bank may be eligible for the new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. Find out more here.

There are countless other areas where MNU is advocating daily, and we will continue to do everything we can to support our members responding to the pandemic. Find more resources, including mental health and wellness supports, at manitobanurses.ca/covid-19.

Thank you for your continued extraordinary efforts during these unprecedented times.

Sincerely,
Darlene Jackson
President
Manitoba Nurses Union

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