'Everything suffers': northern Manitoba officials warn nursing shortage impacting care

Community officials are sounding the alarm on the shortage of nurses in some northern Manitoba communities, claiming it's impacting the health and care of residents.

Tom Lindsey, the NDP MLA for Flin Flon, said while there's a nurse shortage across Manitoba, it's more critical in the north because the number of nurses in those communities is lower.

"(When you're) that short, everything suffers, whether it's Flin Flon, The Pas, Lynn Lake, Leaf Rapids, all those communities have seen a degradation of services," said Lindsey.

"You can't give birth in any of those communities anymore. You got to go somewhere else."

On Friday, the Manitoba Nurses Union went to Twitter to say it was desperate for help in Lynn Lake, Gilliam, and Snow Lake.

Lindsey said over the last five years, the PC Government has dismantled and amalgamated health care facilities and services in the north, and the lack of nurses in the region is chipping away at the community as a whole.

"Even though we bring in agency nurses, they fly in, they fly out. They're not part of the community, they're not (living) there, they're not paying taxes."

Figures released by the Northern Health Region show that three out of four Licensed Practical Nurse positions in Lynn Lake are vacant, as well as four out of five Registered Nurse positions.

The town council for Lynn Lake said nearly all its nursing positions were filled by people who lived in the community five years ago. Now almost all those positions are vacant.

Mayor Jim Shortt said another challenge is that there's one manager for three different hospitals in the region that are hours apart from each other.

"Lynn Lake, Leaf Rapids, and Gillam, and between Lynn Lake and Gillam, that's as far east and west as you can get in Manitoba," said Shortt.

"For one person to manage that, it almost seems impossible."

Lynn Lake Councillor Victoria Phillips previously served as a public health nurse in the region. She believes having one manager responsible for multiple hospitals in the north puts patients and employees at risk.

"If you don't have that person in the community supporting the people there, you've got nothing," said Phillips.

"You've got no one to advocate for the staff. You have no one to advocate for the patients that are getting poor health care over and over again."

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Manitoba Health and Seniors Care said in part:

"Our government continues to address the nursing shortage across the province, especially during the fourth wave of COVID-19. In addition to recent incentives to increase ICU nurse capacity, we added close to 400 new nursing education seats, are supporting over 1,800 internationally educated nurse applicants to begin practicing in Manitoba, and added 60 new full-time nursing positions to ICU's in Brandon, Grace Hospital, St. Boniface, and HSC."

Lindsey said the PC Government needs to look at what services are required in the north.

"It's going to cost money. There's no question about that, but we need to figure out how to fund it properly and not just keep cutting all the time."