Frustration among staff at Manitoba's largest COVID-19 vaccine centre continued to mount Monday, as the province acknowledged operational problems at the immunization site.
In separate interviews with the Free Press Monday, three clinic navigators, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, expressed significant concerns about operations at the RBC Convention Centre supersite in Winnipeg.
Last week, Johanu Botha, operations and planning lead for Manitoba's vaccine task force, blamed the long waits at the supersite on computer glitches, people showing up hours ahead of their appointments, and minor issues with staffing.
However, the three navigators disputed that explanation.
Instead, they said a lack of planning from the province, doubling of appointments without any prior communication with staff, and questionable scheduling practices led to long patient lineups outside the vaccine centre.
Navigators are paid staff members at the clinic who assist with crowd control and patient flow, while building schedules for volunteer vaccine administrators and confirming appointments for those booked by the province.
"My colleagues and I got into this to try and help get our province back to normal," one navigator said Monday. "Our concerns aren't born out of any political animus. We just want the site to be working at its best so that we can vaccinate as many (people) as quickly as possible."
"But at the end of the day," said another navigator, "...the province downright lied about those delays, almost blaming us for their mess, and then quickly internally tried to fix it by hiring more people. And really, it hasn't been fixed yet."
In a statement late Monday, a provincial spokeswoman confirmed staff scheduling issues resulted in "some unacceptable delays" for patients at the Winnipeg supersite.
She said the province has begun transitioning some employees at the site to full-time employees and hiring full-time and part-time term positions to "make our workforce more predictable."
"Most of the workforce were casual employees, and we use a combination of assigned and open shifts," the spokeswoman said. "Open shifts had been made available several days in advance, based on appointment bookings. This was sufficient when the Winnipeg supersite was doing 1,000 to 2,000 doses per day, but is not sustainable as the number of appointments has increased.
"We will continue to review our staffing every two weeks to adjust as needed."
However, navigators say open shifts have led to significant staffing issues.
"The province is relying on having people select the shift as opposed to scheduling the correct number of staff that is needed," said one navigator. "This open shift thing just doesn't work because it means anyone available can pick up a shift but no one has directly been designated to be working on any particular day."
"Right now, it's like we're chickens with our heads cut off," said another. "None of us know who's calling the shots. And even our supervisors have no idea, like they're confused about management roles because they have no answers either."
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.