Ontario Nurses' Association calls on government to end RN cuts and hospital underfunding

SARNIA, ON, Jan. 20, 2014 /CNW/ - The Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) today called on the provincial government to end the underfunding of Ontario hospitals and cuts to RN positions. In keeping with the government's signal that it wants to focus on job creation, ONA is also calling for funding of a multi-year action plan to hire and maintain registered nursing positions in all health care sectors.

In a presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance & Economic Affairs in Sarnia today, Karen Bertrand, RN, ONA Vice-President, Region 5, cited research that shows the direct link between registered nurse staffing levels and improved health outcomes for patients. Bertrand noted that the current cuts to hospital RN jobs and clinical services are a direct result of base hospital funding that has been less than the rate of inflation and cost of population growth since fiscal 2008, and has been zero per cent in the last two fiscal years. This has resulted in millions of hours of RN care cuts. Bertrand also spoke of concerns regarding the understaffing of hospitals in southwestern Ontario and resulting impact on patients. London hospitals are also experiencing critical over-census – or too many patients – in all care areas because of the number of patients needing to be admitted.

ONA President Linda Haslam-Stroud, RN, notes that "It's a little-known fact that Ontario has the second-lowest RN-to-population ratio, with just seven RNs per 1,000 Ontarians. To bring this province up to the national average RN-to-population ratio, Ontario has to hire 17,500 more registered nurses. It's vital that we begin to close this gap."

RN staffing levels in many of our hospitals have put patients at risk. Increasingly, Ontario hospitals are looking to balance budgets by replacing RNs with less-skilled workers, leaving workloads unmanageable for nurses and dangerous for patients.  Haslam-Stroud says that there is a dire need for more RNs to meet the increased care needs of the complex, unstable patients in our hospitals.

"Health system transformation has resulted in patients with alternate level of care needs increasingly being moved out of hospital into the community sector," she notes. "RN staffing levels in hospitals have subsequently been cut, and have not kept pace with the increasingly complex care needs of our hospital patients."

The literature shows that for every extra patient added to an average RN's workload, patient complications and death rates increase by seven per cent. Ontario has lost millions of hours of RN care in the past two years due to RN cuts. In the long-term care sector, the minimum staffing standard for RNs is one per facility – no matter how many residents the facility cares for. This has endangered patients and staff. In addition, lost-time injuries and illnesses of RNs have increased, leaving RNs with the highest injury rate of all sectors, and the second-highest injury rate from violence.

ONA believes that ending RN cuts and cuts to hospital funding fits into the government's plan for economic growth that focuses on strategic investments in jobs, public services and infrastructure.

ONA's recommendations also include consolidating a culture of safety in the health care sector, funding a regulated minimum staffing standard for long-term care homes and implementing a policy of wage parity for home care nurses to build nurse staffing capacity. "It's time for the Ontario government to step up for patients," says Haslam-Stroud. "It is essential to properly staff our hospitals to meet patient care needs. Ontarians deserve no less care than patients in the rest of the country."

ONA is the union representing 60,000 registered nurses and allied health professionals, as well as more than 14,000 nursing student affiliates providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.

SOURCE Ontario Nurses' Association

For further information: Ontario Nurses' Association: Sheree Bond, (416) 964-1979 ext.2430, cell: (416) 986-8240, shereeb@ona.org; Melanie Levenson, (416) 964-1979 ext. 2369, melaniel@ona.org; Visit us at: www.ona.org; Facebook.com/OntarioNurses; Twitter.com/OntarioNurses