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Manitoba health care support workers being asked to perform nurses' duties, union says

The union representing thousands of health care workers in Manitoba say their members are being asked to carry out nurses’ duties not just during the pandemic but moving forward in the future.

CUPE 204, which represents more than 14,000 health care workers in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said health care support staff are being asked to monitor patient’s blood pressure, blood sugars, deliver medical creams and other treatments, which it claims are duties of nurses.

“The provincial government has made such a mess of health care that Health Care Aides are now being asked to perform nursing duties,” CUPE 204 President Debbie Boissonneault said.

Boissonneault said support staff stepped up to help with additional duties throughout the pandemic, but claims the WRHA is going to be making it a permanent change of duties.

“Now the health authority seems to be making these changes permanent, affecting nurses’ scope of practice and putting support staff in unacceptable positions with minimal training and no additional support,” she said.

The union said the WRHA began shifting specific patient and client care tasks from nurses to Health Care Aides in Winnipeg hospitals and facilities during the fall of 2020 but claims support staff have been provided with provided minimal training, and no additional compensation for the added duties.

CUPE said it has filed a number of policy grievances in response to the changes.

It also alleges similar changes were introduced in home care during the current wave of the pandemic where home support workers are now administering treatment normally done by certified home care attendants.

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The union said home care support workers are primarily in charge of cleaning and tidying clients’ homes but are now being asked to do other work including tasks such as supervision or administration of eye drops, oral medications, inhalers, medical ointments, and nitro patches.

“The WRHA is putting at risk the standards, work, and certifications of front-line health care workers,” Boissonneault said.

“This pandemic has shown how important proper funding, staffing, and management of our public health care system is. We should be raising standards, not weakening them.”

The WRHA said throughout its planning and preparedness for the third wave of COVID-19 that it provided staff education and orientation in recent weekends to many health care facilities around the city.

“In some cases, this included education related to tasks that can be performed by other disciplines. This education was largely preparatory in nature and not inconsistent with the assignment of select nursing tasks to Health Care Aides, which is a pre-existing and relatively common practice,” a spokesperson told Global News via an emailed statement.

It said a handful of sites conducted education and training pilots on a small-scale, on how to implement these models of care in a team approach, but in the vast majority of situations this education and training was preparatory only.

“Discussion with the team on care delivery in these environments is ongoing and we have not provided direction to move forward with actual assignment of overlapping functions,” the spokesperson said.

The WRHA confirmed it has received CUPE’s grievances related to the matter and said it will respond through the official and usual process set out in the collective agreement.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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