Neonatal nurses near breaking point as patient numbers rise
As the province recruits more neonatal intensive care unit nurses, new claims about rising patient demand have become public.
A letter discussing a business case to address the “overcapacity” of the St. Boniface Hospital NICU, for example, states it’s funded for 22.8 beds but averages 26 beds about 77% of the time.
The letter, written by the hospital’s president Martine Bouchard, states the number of infants in the NICU, and a neonatal observation unit, rose 21% since 2010-11 and is projected to reach 508 newborns this year. It also notes the number of babies born with drug addiction symptoms rose 42% over the past year, creating additional demands.
When combined with an overall increase in births, the trends pose concern for staff and patients, wrote Bouchard.
“Mandatory overtime, exhaustion, and moral distress currently being experienced are a result of chronically functioning over capacity,” wrote Bouchard.
The letter also states there were four neonatal deaths reviewed since 2015 that appeared linked to high demand but couldn’t definitively be blamed on understaffing. But the WRHA said an investigation found those deaths weren’t caused by understaffing.
“We have reviewed ... all (such) critical incidents at both Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital since 2015 and we are confident based on that review that there have been no critical incidents related to resource or staffing issues,” said Dr. Bruce Roe, the WRHA’S chief medical officer, in a written statement.
St. Boniface Hospital also released a statement that dated the deaths as occurring between 2009 and 2012 and apologized for any confusion.
On Thursday, the WRHA announced a $3.2-million investment to hire about 30 new NICU nurses at St. B and the Health Sciences Centre, which is expected to reduce overtime and create capacity for 11 more beds.
“We had no reasonable expectation that the (demand was) going to decrease," said Health Minister Cameron Friesen of the decision.
Friesen said interim steps were also taken to address overtime prior to the announcement. The WRHA says that helped reduce the extra hours worked at the two NICUS by 540, or 30%, in October, compared to the previous month.
The Manitoba Nurses Union, however, accused the province of responding to the “crisis” months too late, since the union has alleged overtime rates were putting staff and patients at risk since March.
Neonatal nurses in Manitoba say that chronic overcapacity in Neonatal Intensive Care Units is stressing nursing staffs to the breaking point.