Essential Manitoba health-care workers stuck at home, waiting for child care

By | March 27, 2020

Some health-care workers who should be on the front lines fighting COVID-19 say they are stuck at home, waiting for child care that was promised days ago.

Meanwhile, several daycares in Winnipeg say they’ve been sitting empty since Monday, waiting to take on children.

The Manitoba government closed most licensed daycares a week ago, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19— but told many of those centres to be ready to reopen for the children of essential healthcare employees.

A woman who works in the nursing department of a Winnipeg hospital said instead of being at work, she’s at home with her three young children, despite being told she was an essential worker and would have daycare by Monday.

“Every day I’ve been calling,” said the employee, who CBC News is not naming because she worries it could affect her employment.

“I’ve been getting the runaround from different workers at the switchboard at the government line saying, ‘OK, you’re not on the list, you are on the list, please call back tomorrow if you don’t get a call.'”

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The province said it has matched 85 per cent of front-line health-care workers with child care, but the woman said she and others in her hospital department are still waiting.

“I think they were not prepared with a number of front-line workers who actually depend on child care,” she said.

An essential worker at a hospital in Winnipeg says she wants to be at work, but is instead at home with her three young children, because she still hasn’t been matched with child care. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Instead of being at work, she’s bumped her vacation days up this week so she can still be paid, while others in her department are burning through their sick days, she said.

CBC News asked the province’s Department of Families for a statement Thursday about the delay, what types of jobs have not been matched yet, and how it would ensure other parents will find daycare if they are deemed an essential worker.

The department had not provided answers to those questions by deadline Friday.

Daycares empty, laying off staff

Meanwhile, at Kids and Company daycare in Winnipeg, director Mary Ellen Smith says she’s been waiting too.

Smith said she was prepared on Monday to welcome new children to the private daycare, but the province hasn’t communicated with her.

“We’re ready — we’ve been ready since [last] Friday night with staff in place, hours scheduled, meals prepared, ready to receive 40 children. But we haven’t seen that. So our building is three-quarters empty,” she said.

Now, she has to lay off 20 of her 26 staff members, she said.

“Each day more emails come out, more confusing emails, in terms of what we are allowed to do,” Smith said.

“It’s very frustrating because we’re here, ready to receive children, to provide services that are [so badly] needed by these families, and we’re not getting information,” she said.

Kids and Company daycare was expecting to take on 40 children who needed care starting on Monday. But the centre said it’s had little communication with the province, and has now laid off the majority of its staff. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

It’s the same case for Tara Mills, with Busy Nest Day Care in Morris, Man., about 60 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

That daycare normally has 59 children, but right now has five. Mills said she’s been waiting all week for the province to provide her with a list of health-care workers who need child care.

“[It’s been] disrespectful. The lack of communication is unsettling,” she said, adding that she’s also had to lay off staff. 

Several other daycares in Manitoba confirmed with CBC News they are also in the same situation.

If families are having trouble getting child care, they should be going directly to employers, who can contact the Department of Families, according to Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health.

“I would encourage if [health-care providers] are struggling with daycare, they let their employer know, and we make sure that we clear the way and make a path for that to happen,” Siragusa said.

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