A group of 1,500 Manitoba nurses has written a letter to provincial officials in support of their colleagues’ calls last week.

The letter is addressed to Premier Brian Pallister and Health Minister Cameron Friesen. 

The group of nurses said their letter is a show of support for their physician and PhD educated colleagues, who have been warning the government about the increasing strain on the health care system from COVID-19. 

“Those of us who are working on the front lines feel as though the plans that our colleagues have laid out are critical in providing any chance of our healthcare system surviving this pandemic. We fully support these recommendations,” the letter reads. 

“We also echo their sentiment that these are grave times, and that we therefore need significant and drastic measures in response. We are concerned that the current management plan is falling short, leading to catastrophic consequences.”

In a written statement to CTV News on Monday, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said due to the surging COVID-19 case numbers the province needs frontline workers more than ever.

“We are in the middle of a global pandemic and many people are concerned,” he said. “As a government, we will listen to their concerns, indicate the many ways we are taking action, and express again our commitment to working hard to keep nurses safe."

Last week, 200 doctors and other scientists signed a letter warning the COVID-19 pandemic is spiralling out of control in Manitoba. The letter raised concerns about hospital and critical care capacity and public health funding amid increasing cases of COVID-19 in the Winnipeg region.

Friesen said the letter appeared to have been timed to create chaos in the healthcare system during a time when COVID numbers were rising. He was then criticized for his response. Friesen didn’t apologize for his remarks, but did say he could have better chosen his words. 

Last week, when asked for his thoughts on the doctors' letter, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said he values input from his colleagues but feels confident in the current measures.

The nurses’ letter notes they’ve been calling for urgent action for months. 

“We desperately need better resources and support across our healthcare system in order to appropriately care for our patients. Instead, we have watched as our province has acted reactively instead of proactively to COVID-19,” the letter said. “We have watched as decisions regarding policy and procedure have been made for healthcare providers on the front lines instead of with us. We ask that the province realizes the cost of this path.”

The nurses echo the calls of the physicians, saying the province needs to take stronger steps to lock down the province and implement the changes being called for in order to limit the spread of the virus. 

They are also calling for additional testing capacity, resources, PPE, and supplies in order to protect frontline workers and patients. 

The letter concluded by saying the government needs to take the recommendations from nurses and their colleagues as a united front seriously. 

“While drastic, they are the only hope our healthcare system has to not only heal, but survive moving forward. Lives are at stake. Our healthcare system is at stake. You must act now.”

A NURSE SPEAKS OUT

A nurse, who has chosen to remain anonymous, told CTV News Winnipeg this letter brings physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers together as a united front.

“Together your voices are always just a little but stronger,” she said.

“If it’s just the nurses coming forward people can come up with excuses… or if it’s just the physicians coming forward more excuses can be made. I think when everyone comes forward with the same message together, our hope in the end is that it will be taken more seriously.”

The nurse noted the fact that so many people signed this letter in such a short time shows that nurses are “desperate” to be heard, but said healthcare providers are still concerned this letter will go ignored.

“I think the hardest thing you can do is make people feel helpless,” she said.

“Whether it’s nurses or physicians or the population, I feel like people are feeling very helpless right now, and when you have that sense of helplessness and you don’t address it and you don’t let people have their voices heard and validate those feelings, and you instead you meet that with resistance… I think that’s a recipe for disaster.”

She said even before the start of the pandemic, healthcare providers felt their concerns were not being taken seriously, and now, several months into the pandemic, this feeling has not changed.

“We’re still feeling like decisions are being made for us, instead of with us, and it really feels like nothing’s changed,” she said.

“I think it’s really heightened all of those feelings that were there originally. It’s just frustrating to see they weren’t addressed back then and they’re still not being addressed now.”

She noted that with the pandemic, there are staff who are afraid to go to work, adding that healthcare workers are witnessing tragedies everywhere.

“There are nurses constantly standing beside patients while they die,” she said.

“Constantly trying to advocate for some type of family communication for this patients before they die. It just feels like an uphill battle all the time.”

The nurse said it’s “beyond hard” to mentally prepare yourself for a shift.

“When you’re working 10 days in a row now because nurses are all sick or other nurses have COVID, mentally preparing yourself to work 10 days in a row, knowing that you have to go in every single day and be a witness to the struggle that our healthcare system is facing right now, I think we’re already starting to see nurses break down,” she said.

“I think there’s going to be, even after the pandemic, long-term effects from this.”

 -With files from CTV’s Josh Crabb and Kayla Rosen, and The Canadian Press