A shortage of respiratory therapists at Concordia Hospital is putting patients at risk and leading to exhausted workers, advocates say.

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals said the Winnipeg hospital, sit of many of the province’s hip and knee replacement surgeries, has a 50 per cent vacancy rate with its RTs, functioning with the equivalent of 2.5 full-time positions, not including an anesthesiology RT dedicated to support surgeries.

“Concordia is beyond the crisis point,” union president Bob Moroz said Friday.

“It is unfair and unsustainable. This hospital operates 24 hours a day and this is asking too much of people.”

Moroz said RTs are essential in hospital ICUs, emergency rooms, urgent care and operating rooms.

“They keep people breathing,” he said. “Their role is they breathe for us when we can’t breathe on our own.”

Moroz said the shortage means some are being forced to take consecutive 12-hour shifts and are denied breaks.

Grace Hospital is also facing problems amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has told its RTs they will be limited to having only one RT on vacation at a time for the next year, he added.

“Not only have they been working 120 km/h through the pandemic and through amalgamation of emergency rooms, now they are looking at limiting the vacation time they so rightly deserve,” Moroz said. “It is a real crisis right now.”

Bobbi-Jo Stanley, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said there are several areas of the health-care system experiencing staffing shortages — respiratory therapists is one of them.

“Our current vacancy rate for respiratory therapists across all WRHA sites and Health Sciences Centre is 21.8 per cent,” Stanley said.

“The WRHA is addressing this situation by taking a number of actions, including an aggressive recruitment campaign to attract respiratory therapists from other provinces. In the meantime, work is underway to fill as many shifts as possible so that patient needs are being addressed,” she said Friday.

“Respiratory therapists across the province are coming together to fill shifts at all WRHA sites.”

Even then, it is tough to find substitute staff

One RT, based in southern Manitoba, said he was asked Friday to pick up a shift in Winnipeg, because somebody had called in sick.

“I declined because I need to rest,” Craig Doell said on social media. “Staff everywhere is being crunched because of illness right now.

“Please be patient when coming to hospital. Staff are doing their best and they’re awesome.”

Moroz said the shortage of RTs won’t be going away unless the province does something. He noted the Manitoba Association of Registered Respiratory Therapists peg the total number of RTs in the province at 332, 10 per cent fewer than a the 365 who were practicing last year.

The University of Manitoba’s bachelor of respiratory therapy program has been funded for 16 positions since it was created in 2001, he said.

“We have nowhere close to the numbers of RTs we need to handle another pandemic surge. There’s nowhere left to pull staff from. It’s unsustainable.”

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Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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