June 11, 2021
Treaty 1 Territory, Homeland of the Métis Nation, Winnipeg MB—After months of Manitobans searching for answers as to why the pandemic’s third wave hit the province so hard, public health nurses are blowing the whistle on a for-profit contract tracing service that has failed to keep up with cases and is partly responsible for a difficult and extended third wave.
“The PCs just don’t get it—to end this third wave we need to invest in health care, not run a pandemic on the cheap with for-profit contact tracing,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew. “Clearly a for-profit model that prioritizes the bottom line over quality contact tracing has made our third wave worse than it needed to be. The government needs to abandon this for-profit contract and commit to hiring more public health nurses to get a handle on our cases and keep people safe.”
Public health nurses sent a letter to the Manitoba NDP detailing their concerns about the province’s Virtual Call Center, and it’s $13 million contract with the private firm 24/7 InTouch to provide contact tracing services.
The nurses, who are mandated to provide clinical oversight and quality assurance for the call center employees, say the agency’s “business perspective” and “inadequate training sessions” have led to “disastrous management of case investigation(s)” and critical incidents. Nurses worry Manitobans seeking care mistakenly believe the phone calls are being done by trained public health nurses. There are more than 400 call center employees at 24/7 InTouch but fewer than 20 public health nurses, and as volumes of cases increase, the majority go unreviewed.
Nurses say they have brought up “ethical issues with the standards of care” to government but have been ignored. The contract with 24/7 InTouch will expire in June, and nurses have urged the government not to renew it.
“Public health nurses are the real experts, but the PCs have just ignored them and pushed their privatization agenda. It’s put patients at risk and made this third wave worse than it had to be,” said NPD Health Critic Uzoma Asagwara. “Before they blindly renew this contract, the PCs need to listen to nurses and agree to hire more public health care workers to conduct contact tracing. If the strike vote has taught us anything, it's that mistreating nurses has consequences.”