Manitoba nurses are quitting amid mandatory overtime, high job postings and a lack of work-life balance

High nursing job vacancies and skyrocketing mandatory overtime are forcing some nurses to hand in their notices.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - photo credit)

High nursing job vacancies and skyrocketing mandatory overtime are forcing some nurses to hand in their notices. (Ben Nelms/CBC – photo credit)

Some Manitoba nurses are leaving the healthcare field saying they are burned out and unable to maintain a work-life balance as many positions are unfilled and mandated overtime that the nurses’ union says is skyrocketing.

According to the Manitoba Nurses Union, nurses across the province worked more than a million hours of overtime last year, and many are still required to stay well past their shifts.

It was enough to stop Malyssa Wien’s last year.

“I was often just angry when I was at work because I was kind of at my wits end,” Wiens said.

Wiens was a part-time nurse for 10 years but quit last May because she felt she couldn’t keep to her schedule.

“I was often assigned to work a weekend, which meant I worked my regular shift and then stayed and worked a double shift,” she said.

The 35-year-old said that means she often works 16-hour stretches, several days in a row.

“I had very little sleep at that point. I would say my brain wasn’t functioning optimally,” she said. “It had happened eight or nine weeks in a row,” she said. That’s what finally made me say, ‘Okay, I can’t do this anymore.’

Wiens has always planned to work part-time so that she can be home more often while raising her children. But recently her job had taken over and she was ordered to work late and she couldn’t see her children.

“So I finally had to make a decision. Do I want to be a tired and angry mom who works as a nurse or do I just want to be like a good mom to my kids,” she said. “That’s what I finally decided to do.”

Mandatory overtime and vacancy rates

It’s a move more and more nurses said they’re considering.

The Manitoba Nurses’ Union said mandatory overtime hours have increased over the past year in nearly all healthcare regions.

According to the MNU, nurses worked nearly 650,000 hours of overtime in Winnipeg alone.

One nurse, whose name CBC is not giving out for fear of reprisals at work, said working conditions are getting worse and she doesn’t know how much longer she can keep it up.

“Every day that shifts are posted for pickup, there are between three and eight shifts during the day that are empty and need to be filled, and so many nurses are off the schedule,” the rural emergency room nurse said.

Like Wiens, she decided to work part-time in order to be able to look after her children and family flexibly. But that doesn’t happen anymore and she said both her patients and loved ones are suffering.

“You can’t always give 110 percent. You do your best and make sure that what is really necessary is done to make sure the patient is safe, but you can’t,” she said. “The next day after a 16-hour shift, I feel like a zombie. I don’t have the same energy that I have on a normal day to give my child the same level of interaction that I do…I’m not the parent, the ideal parent, that’s what I want to be these days.”

This prompted her to write a letter that she intends to send to the Minister of Health. It was put online by the MNU and has received more than 1,000 comments of support.

“We want to help our unit. We want to take on those extra layers. We don’t want to leave them understaffed, but we’re all getting burned out,” she said. “Patients are seeing the impact of this, our children are seeing the impact of this, our partners are seeing the impact of this. So I was just frustrated.”

Nursing vacancies skyrocketed across the province during the pandemic.

In some health regions, like Interlake-Eastern, rates rose to nearly 45 percent by January 2021. While those rates have improved slightly, they’re still nearly 36 percent, which is higher than pre-pandemic levels.

More than a third of the positions remain vacant.

It’s only getting worse in Prairie Mountain. Job vacancies there have risen steadily since 2019, with almost a quarter of vacancies remaining vacant as of January 2023.

In the Southern Health Region, the vacancy rate is nearly 27 percent, more than double the 2019 level.

“[Nurses], in general, are empathetic and we want to help people, we want to help our unit, we want to take on those extra shifts. We don’t want to leave them understaffed, but we’re all burned out,” the rural nurse said.

Union President Darlene Jackson said it was unsustainable and more progress needed to be made, particularly for those nurses who have families they would be moved from.

“Parents must not be placed in situations where they have no control over their private lives. This is catastrophic for both families and our future generations,” Jackson said. “It’s time to be smarter and rule with compassion; it’s time for those in positions of power to help, not hold parents back. That’s long overdue.”

The province recently announced $200 million in employee incentives, which the province expects will help strengthen the health workforce.

The WRHA and Shared Health said recruiting and retaining health workers, including nurses, remains a high priority.

“[We] are focused on reducing nurse vacancies and reducing overall overtime hours, with efforts to recruit UNE (undergraduate nurses) staff, as well as establish a provincial-level float pool,” a spokesman said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

The float pool allows for flexible scheduling for the nurses interested in working with different employers across the province.

“The province’s float pool initiative is in its early stages and we have not yet hired any staff as a result of these vacancies, but we expect to do so shortly,” said a spokesman for the Interlake-Eastern health region.


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