‘We will take action’: Manitoba not ruling out military help as emergency rooms overflow

The Manitoba Government could turn to the military for help as it struggles with staffing shortages, overcrowding, and in some cases, temporary closures of emergency rooms.

A lack of staff is creating a bottleneck in the healthcare system. It’s a problem so severe that Premier Heather Stefanson isn’t ruling out asking for military assistance.

“We will continue to assess the situation through [Emergency Management Office], and if it’s necessary, we will take action,” Stefanson said at a news conference Tuesday.

The Manitoba Nurses’ Union said the current situation inside emergency rooms is fuelling burnout and driving nurses to leave their jobs. It said in some cases, patients are being put in break rooms and hallways to help clear the emergency room.

“We spend all day every day apologizing,” said Darlene Jackson, the union’s president. “Apologizing to patients because we haven’t had time to get to them as quickly as they deserve because when you add more patients, they are not adding more nurses.”

According to Jackson, there are about 2,500 vacancies in Manitoba affecting all corners of the province.

On Friday, Pine Falls Health Complex was forced to temporarily close its emergency department due to a lack of staff.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said fixing the issue is a top priority.

“We are committed to working with those communities to get those emergency departments reopen, to staffing them,” said Gordon.

She said the province is working to acquire, train and retain more nurses, and noted the province is actively meeting with frontline health leaders to come up with more solutions.

“We know that the system is under incredible pressures right now, and we are all around a table of solutions talking about how we can relieve those pressures,” she said.

In a statement to CTV News, Shared Health said current wait times are a concern to everyone in the healthcare system.

It noted patients requiring urgent care continue to be seen quickly, and all patients are triaged upon arrival.

The health provider said ambulances are taking lower-acuity patients to urgent care centres instead of emergency rooms and are implementing a physician-in-triage model of care to help alleviate the strain.

As these temporary fixes work to lessen the burden, the premier says the province is watching to see if more help is needed.

“It’s accessed on a day-by-day, an hour-by-hour basis throughout our entire system. We will continue to work closely with Shared Health to make sure we overcome some of those challenges,” Stefanson said. 

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