Some Manitoba nurses are leaving the health care field saying they are burned out and unable to maintain any work-life balance due to high vacancy rates and mandated overtime hours, which the nurses union says is skyrocketing.
According to the Manitoba Nurses Union, nurses logged more than one million hours of overtime across the province last year and many continue to be mandated to stay well past their shifts.
It was enough to make Malyssa Wiens quit last year.
“I was often just angry when I was at work ’cause I just felt sort of at my wit’s end,” Wiens said.
Wiens was a part-time nurse for 10 years but quit last May because she felt she was no longer able to sustain her schedule.
“I was often being mandated when I would work a weekend so that meant that I would be working my regular shift and then I would stay and work a double shift,” she said.
The 35-year-old said that meant she was often working 16 hours straight, multiple days in a row.
“I was very sleep-deprived by that point. I would say my brain was not functioning as its optimum,” she said. “That had happened like eight or nine weeks in a row,” she said. That’s what finally pushed me to say, ‘OK I can’t do this anymore.’
Wiens had always intended to work part-time so she was able to be home more often while raising her children. But recently, her job had taken over and she was being mandated to work longer hours and she was unable to see her kids.
“So I had to finally choose. Do I want to be an exhausted and angry mom working as a nurse, or do I just want to be like a good mom to my kids,” she said. “So that’s what I finally chose.”
Mandated overtime and vacancy rates
It’s a move more and more nurses have said they are considering.
The Manitoba Nurses’ Union said mandated overtime was up in almost every health region last year.
According to data provided by MNU, in Winnipeg alone, nurses worked nearly 650,000 hours of overtime.
One nurse, who CBC is not naming for fear of job reprisal, said the work conditions keep getting worse and she doesn’t know how much longer she can maintain it.
“On any given day when the shifts get posted to be picked up, there’s anywhere from three to eight shifts during the day that are empty that need to be filled and so that’s a lot of nurses not on the schedule,” the rural emergency room nurse said.
She, like Wiens, chose to work part-time to be able to have the flexibility to care for her children and family. But that’s not happening anymore and she said both her patients and her loved ones are suffering.
“You can’t give it 110 per cent all the time. You do your best and you make sure that the bare minimum really gets done to make sure the patient is safe, but you can’t,” she said. “The next day after a 16-hour shift, I feel like a zombie. I don’t have the same energy I would on a normal day to give my child the same level of interaction as I would … I’m not the parent, the ideal parent, I would like to be on those days.”
It prompted her to write a letter which she plans to send to the health minister. It was posted online by the MNU and has garnered more than 1,000 comments of support.
“We want to help our unit. We want to pick up those extra shifts. We don’t want to leave them short-staffed, but we’re all getting burned out.,” she said. “The patients are seeing the effects of it, our kids are seeing the effects of it, our partners are seeing the effects of it. So I was just frustrated.”
Nursing vacancy rates skyrocketed across the province during the pandemic.
Some health regions, like the Interlake-Eastern, saw rates jump to nearly 45 per cent by January 2021. While those rates have slightly improved they are still sitting at nearly 36 per cent, which is higher than pre-pandemic levels.
More than a third of positions remain unfilled.
In Prairie Mountain, it’s only continued to get worse. Vacancy rates there have risen steadily since 2019 with nearly a quarter of positions sitting vacant as of January 2023.
In the Southern Health Region the vacancy rate is nearly 27 per cent, more than double the rate from 2019.
“[Nurses], generally, are empathetic and we want to help people, we want to help our unit, we want to pick up those extra shifts. We don’t want to leave them short-staffed, but we’re all getting burned out,” the rural nurse said.
Union president Darlene Jackson said it is not sustainable and more progress needs to be made, especially for those nurses who have families they are being pulled away from.
“Parents cannot be put in situations where they have no control over their home life. This is disastrous for both families and our future generations,” Jackson said. “It’s time to smarten up and govern with compassion; it’s time for people in positions of power to help, not hold parents back. This is long overdue.”
The province recently announced $200 million in staff incentives which the province said it expects will help bolster the health workforce.
The WRHA and Shared Health said recruitment and retention of health-care workers, including nurses, remains a high priority.
“[We] are focused on reducing the existing nurse vacancy rate and lowering the number of overall overtime hours, with efforts toward recruiting UNE’s (undergraduate nurse employees) as well implementing a provincial float pool,” a spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CBC News.
The float pool will allow flexible scheduling for those nurses interested in working at different employers across the province.
“The provincial float pool initiative is in early stages and we have not yet hired as a result of these postings however we anticipate doing so shortly,” a spokesperson for the Interlake-Eastern health region said.