The head of the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) says it's unfortunate Southern Health has allowed the nursing situation in Altona to get to a crisis point in which the local ER has to be closed.

MNU President Darlene Jackson says Altona's hospital has been losing good, experienced nurses for quite some time and the MNU has raised this issue with officials at the RHA and Shared Health on several occasions.

"We know that morale is extremely, extremely low in that facility and we know that nurses are looking for other opportunities within the region. It has certainly been brought to the attention of Darlene Jackson - Photo courtesy MNU Southern  Health. Their vacancy rate has been moving toward this crisis point for a very long time."

Jackson says Southern Health should be conducting exit interviews with nurses who are leaving to determine why they are leaving and what can be done to rectify the situation.

The shortage of nurses is a problem throughout Manitoba where almost every hospital has job vacancies but unfortunately the situation in Altona has been allowed to grow into a crisis, according to Jackson.

The RHA has cited multiple temporary staff leaves and an inability to recruit nurses due to COVID-19 health restrictions as factors in the shortage of nurses.

Jackson believes the issue goes much deeper than that. She says the MNU has not seen any details of the RHA's plan nor have the nurses in Altona.

"I think it's a symptom of a much bigger problem in that if you're going to roll out a plan, bring the front line workers to the table and ask them their opinions because no one knows health care better than those front line workers. That's truly what has been missing in this province and in Altona."

Southern Health, in its public statement last week, said it would collaborate with community physicians and staff, nursing colleges, and union leadership to build a stronger and more reliable emergency department.

Jackson says Southern Health is giving itself six months to fill the nursing vacancies in Altona but she's not exactly sure how they'll accomplish that.

"I'm a little leary about it but I really hope they will see nurses coming back to work there. That would be great, but we have such a critical nursing shortage throughout this province. I feel six months is very optimistic."