'The fourth wave for me is terrifying': ER nurse speaks out about nursing shortage in Manitoba

Manitoba's nursing shortage is not unique to any one hospital, and one nurse working in Steinbach says the environment is sending nurses running.

Margo Singleton works as an emergency room nurse at Bethesda Regional Health Centre in Steinbach. She is speaking out as Manitoba and its western Canadian neighbours fend off the pandemic's fourth wave.

“I don’t think people understand the real picture of what we’ve been facing and what we’ve been going through," Singleton said.

She said her department has about a 25 per cent nursing vacancy, and thousands of nurses hours are going unfilled. She said she feels staff are being pushed to their breaking point.

“We are telling family members that we can’t let them into our department," she said. "We are being yelled at by family members.”

A spokesperson for Shared Health told CTV News the nursing shortage is province-wide and is not unique to any one facility.

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said the third wave was the tipping point for many nursed who decided to leave. She worries about the fourth wave.

"I don’t see Manitoba in the critical nursing shortage that we’re in, in a position where we’re going to be able to be a good neighbour," she said.

Manitoba Premier Kelvin Goertzen said there has been no official ask for ICU beds from Alberta or Saskatchewan to return the favour from the third wave

“If we had the ability to offer support I think that we’d want to," Goertzen said Thursday.

A Shared Health spokesperson said ICU capacity is fluid, but remains above both current and anticipated demand.

As of Thursday, there were 90 patients in Manitoba ICUS, including 12 who have COVID-19. The pre-pandemic baseline was 72, with 22 set aside for cardiac patients.

"The fourth wave for me is terrifying," Singleton said.

The nurse said at her health centre there is no intensive care unit and they are doing everything they can to fill shifts in other departments.

She said more needs to be done to encourage nurses to come into the job and to stay.

"I do this job because I am compassionate towards people and because I want to make a difference," she said.

Southern Health said managers at Bethesda Regional Health Centre have been working direct care shifts to support the provision of safe patient care. It said there have been recent successes in recruitment of new nurses to the site.

It anticipates with term positions scheduled to return in the fall, and the end of vacation peaks, current vacancy rates will improve.