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

KINGSTON, ON, Jan. 23, 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 presentations to the Standing Committee on Finance & Economic Affairs in Kingston today, ONA Board member Anne Clark, RN and ONA Local 99 member Cathryn Hoy, RN, spoke about both the implications of hospital underfunding and the specific impact on patients in both the Ottawa area and at Kingston General Hospital.

Clark cited research that shows the direct link between registered nurse staffing levels and improved health outcomes for patients. Yet at The Ottawa Hospital, a large number of experienced RNs were cut to create another layer of management. This has led to increased workloads for nurses. Simultaneously, the hospital converted beds on many inpatient units to "flex beds" to be used during a surge. As a result, the unfunded beds are always open with no increase in staffing or decrease in the number of patients per RN.

Last year, RNs at The Ottawa Hospital filed more than 230 improper workload forms – an indicator of unsafe and unmanageable patient care due to the lack of RNs.

Cuts of hospital RNs 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 zero per cent in the last two fiscal years. This has resulted in cuts to millions of RN care hours.

Hoy spoke of the challenges at Kingston General Hospital related to unsafe staffing levels in the intensive care unit that occurred when management changed the "skill mix" of nurses. Inadequate RN staffing levels in the ICU have resulted in high RN burnout and staff turnover. Errors and patient safety issues subsequently arose. The hospital has cut 70 RN care hours per week from its emergency department schedule and RNs there are finding it a struggle to meet care standards.

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."

Low RN staffing levels in many of our hospitals have put patients at risk. Hospitals are looking to balance budgets by deskilling the nursing workforce, 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.

"With health system changes resulting in insufficient RN staffing levels, patients with alternate level of care needs are increasingly being moved out of hospital into the community sector before they are ready," she notes. "RN staffing levels 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 ending cuts to hospital funding fits into the government's plan for economic growth that focuses on strategic investments in jobs, public services and infrastructure. Recommendations include consolidating a culture of safety, 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; www.Facebook.com/OntarioNurses; www.Twitter.com/OntarioNurses