Stretch marks

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.

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