Editor’s note: Manitoba Nurses Union was asked questions regarding its response to COVID-19 over the past 10 months. The following is MNU’s response to those questions.
Looking back on 2020, Manitoba nurses have faced tremendous adversity. In fact, many of the struggles they were facing going into the year pre-existed the pandemic and have become unavoidably prominent as a result of it. Health-care restructuring in the years prior to 2020 removed any flex from the system, leaving us vulnerable, and despite our hopes to the contrary, the worst arrived in unprecedented global fashion.
PPE supply challenges, widespread use of expired safety equipment (procedure masks), unsustainable workloads and ever-increasing demands on nurses are the hallmarks of a year unlike any other in recent memory. In addition to mandated overtime, double shifting, scheduling disruptions and vacation cancellations, many nurses themselves have been infected with COVID-19, fearing for their own safety and that of their families.
Through it all, though, nurses have continued to give, even when strained beyond the limit, taking an acute nursing shortage to a critical situation. Our ICUs are just one example of nurses giving beyond reasonable expectations. Similar deficits can be found in every area of health care, from the emergency room to long-term care for the elderly and infirm. Every day, nurses see how patient care is affected by shortages. They grieve with the many who have lost loved ones and experienced firsthand the most tragic effect of this destructive pandemic. They have been and continue to be vocal in expressing their concerns about cuts and the impact upon patient care. It is our hope in 2021, government is willing to earnestly listen.
With the arrival of a vaccine, and some preliminary indications, the current restrictions are beginning to have positive effect; we’re hopeful 2021 will ease this unsustainable pressure.
The lessons of COVID-19 must not go unnoticed. We must place importance on preparation and ensure Manitoba begins aggressive recruitment and retention of nurses, who have played a crucially vital part of our pandemic response. We need to have the caregivers in place and be better prepared when these phenomena occur, in order to mitigate the frequency of the worst outcomes for patients.
Of late, government certainly has extended many statements of appreciation to nurses. In the coming year, there is an opportunity to provide tangible expressions of that appreciation. Addressing a contract four years expired would be a good start.