The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) says the government’s five-point plan to tackle health system challenges represents an important building block to begin tackling critical issues facing the nursing profession. It should be followed with a comprehensive plan to shore up a registered nurse (RN) workforce already falling 22,000 short before the pandemic. Ontario has since lost even more RNs due to excessive workloads, stress and burnout, worsening working conditions, and reduced earnings due to Bill 124.
Announced Thursday by Minister of Health Sylvia Jones and Minister of Long-Term Care Paul Calandra, the province’s “Plan to Stay Open” contains measures in five areas: Preserving hospital capacity, providing the right care in the right place, reducing surgical waitlists, easing pressure on emergency departments and further expansion of Ontario’s health workforce.
“We are glad the government now recognizes the magnitude of the nursing crisis and the central role of stakeholders like RNAO to find solutions so our health system can meet the care needs of Ontarians,” says RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway.
Thursday’s announcement included covering registration fees to help offset the cost of accreditation for internationally educated nurses (IEN) and for retired RNs who wish to resume service as mentors. Holloway says this – together with a previous deadline given to the province’s nursing regulatory body on how they intend to speed up processing of accreditation applications – is a welcome starting point to integrate an estimated 26,000 IENs residing in Canada. “IENs have been waiting far too long to get registered to practise and help their fellow colleagues. Ontarians desperately need them on the frontlines,” she adds.
“An important prong of the five-point plan is the investment of $57.6 million to bring 225 additional nurse practitioners (NP) to serve residents in nursing homes,” notes Holloway. “NPs have the legislative authority to diagnose and prescribe. Their expertise will improve care and the quality of life for residents, reduce unnecessary transfers to hospitals and help retain staff that will be better supported to provide clinical care.”
RNAO says nurses hold the key to solving Ontario’s health system woes that have resulted in closures of and backlogs in emergency rooms, intensive care units and long wait times for surgical procedures across the province. “Without nurses, you cannot run an effective functioning system, and without RNs and NPs, you cannot run emergency departments, transplant units, critical care or other high intensity services – full stop,” says Holloway. She adds that any plan to add beds to increase capacity will not work unless there are more nurses available to provide patient care.
RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun joins Holloway in urging the province to make health human resource planning its top priority. “All health-care providers in Ontario – and in particular nurses who are beyond exhausted – need to be reassured they can build their careers in Ontario after completing their education.” Steps needed include providing ready access to bridging programs to help registered practical nurses (RPN) become RNs, helping RNs develop expertise in critical care, and furthering their careers as clinical nurse specialists, NPs, managers or educators.
Building career paths for nurses in Ontario also means that full-time positions should be better rewarded and recognized than agency positions. “We can capitalize on existing and proven programs such as the Nursing Graduate Guarantee and the Late Career Initiative – why reinvent the wheel,” emphasizes Grinspun. “This is how you will convince nurses to stay in Ontario.”
Grinspun cautions, however, that a big sticking point for all nurses remains the existence of Bill 124. “The legislation (Bill 124) is an affront to the profession. Nurses want to feel respected, not devalued given their expertise and the responsibility of their work.” Her biggest fear is “bringing nurses to Ontario, only for them to leave for greener pastures. We must do away with Bill 124 and reduce workloads. We must do so for the sake of our patients and the health of our communities.”
Another area of caution in the government’s plan, Grinspun warns, is “the lack of detail around so-called ‘innovative solutions’ to drive up volumes and reduce wait times for surgeries and procedures. This must not be a guise to allow privatization of our health system. We hear Premier Ford say Ontarians will continue to receive publicly-funded health care, however, the government must fully and immediately disclose its intentions.”
Grinspun stresses that “RNAO does not oppose OHIP-covered specialized independent health facilities – as long as they are not owned or operated by for-profit corporations.” She notes that for-profit corporations are legally obliged to prioritize the interests of shareholders and investors – not those of the public. “We cannot allow them to carve out money and drain precious human health resources from the public system, thus aggravating the nursing shortage and the health of Ontarians. This is a line in the sand for nurses and RNAO,” warns Grinspun.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public we serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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