Opposition calls on Manitoba gov’t to shore up Grace hospital after nurse shares concerns about patient care

Recent allegations of patients waiting in hallways at Grace Hospital’s emergency department while their condition is deteriorating shouldn’t be news to the province’s health minister, the NDP alleges. 

The Official Opposition tabled a letter during question period Tuesday from what the party said was an anonymous health-care worker at the Grace, who said staff at the overrun emergency department are “in no way ready for the third wave” of the pandemic.

The letter stated it is “not uncommon” for patients to wait in hallways for 50 hours before receiving care. It said nurses are stretched so thin they sometimes don’t realize when the condition of some patients in the hallway is declining.

“There are many days I wish I could duplicate myself four or five times to make sure all of my patients get the care they need,” the letter reads.

“Missed meds, rushed and skipped assessments, delayed hygiene, falls, bed sores are daily occurrences.”

Province is ‘barely being reactive:’ NDP

After question period, Health Minister Heather Stefanson promised to investigate these concerns, but the NDP’s health critic Uzoma Asagwara alleged Stefanson has been aware of these issues for much longer.

“I would ask the minister why she hasn’t responded to the concerns these nurses and health-care workers have been bringing forward for months. We’ve raised this issue a number of times in question period,” Asagwara said.

“All it shows me is that, again, this government is failing to be proactive. They’re barely being reactive at this point. It shows a level of complacency that is putting people at risk in our health-care system.”

The NDP held a news conference outside Grace Hospital last month, in which they made public a letter from a woman who wrote her 93-year-old mother was subjected to “torture” as she waited in the ER hallway for five days.

Grace Hospital had a 20 per cent nursing vacancy rate in its emergency and urgent care departments as of this January. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

Earlier on Tuesday, CBC News reported Grace ER patients are not getting their medications in time, missing bathroom breaks and languishing for days in hallways, according to a nurse who was granted anonymity. She said significant staffing problems are to blame.

It’s obvious the pleas for help from hospital staff have gone unheard, Asagwara said

“It is well past the point that the government should have acted,” the NDP’s health critic said.

Stefanson told reporters following question period she hasn’t had the chance to read the letter presented on Tuesday. She noted the letter appeared to be unsigned (which it was), so she doesn’t know if she can respond back. 

“I’ll certainly talk to the regional health authority about that and see if this is actually the reality of what’s going on, I’m not sure,” the health minister said.

“But you know, I do want to assure: if there is challenges out there, we will address them.”

Stefanson said Manitoba is working to address the years-long problem of staffing shortages. The province is working to create 60 full-time nursing positions dedicated to critical care. She said more than 12 of those full-time positions will be assigned to Grace Hospital. 

A freedom of information document obtained by the NDP shows Grace Hospital had 16 of 80 nursing positions vacant in its emergency department this January.

‘No evidence’ patients not receiving care: WRHA

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority acknowledged Grace Hospital is struggling with staffing, as are other health-care facilities, and these problems are exacerbated by the admission of more patients as the number of COVID-19 cases have climbed.

“Unfortunately, the isolation requirements for patients who present with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, the demand on inpatient admissions, and bed availability does, on occasion, result in patients waiting in the [emergency department] or another area for longer than desired,” the statement said.

“Patient safety is our top priority, and there is no evidence to support the claim that patients who come to the [emergency department] at Grace Hospital are not receiving the care they need due to staff shortages or other COVID-19 safety measures.”

The health authority said management is meeting regularly with emergency room staff to hear and address their concerns.