TORONTO – The Ontario Nurses’ Association warns hospital patients are at increased risk of dying because of cuts to registered nursing positions across the province, but the government insists the ill are being cared for.
Union president Linda Haslam-Stroud says the Liberals may say they hired 24,000 nurses since they were first elected in 2003, but reality is 625 registered nursing positions have been cut in Ontario this year, mainly at hospitals.
“We know that as they erode these RN positions our patients chances of dying increase,” she said. “We don’t like to talk about that, but the reality is that’s what is happening.”
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Hospital budgets have been flatlined for four years, so only the most difficult and complex patients are admitted, and that requires more nurses, added Haslam-stroud.
“Our patients are more acute, complex and sicker, and we’ve reduced the highest skilled level of nurses to care for them,” she said. “We’ve been advocating for our patients for some time without any real up take or concern from the government, from our employers or from the local health integrated networks.”
Haslam-Stroud said it’s time to start speaking in plain language.
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“I would normally say our patients are transferred out of the intensive care unit, but I’m actually going to tell you they are kicked out of the ICU because we don’t have enough nurses,” she said. “We are terrified for our patients to actually find out about the risks that are involved in their care each and every day.”
Haslam-Stroud said some of the cuts were done by “stealth” because hospitals didn’t replace nurses who retired or moved, while others were layoffs.
The government does want more care provided in home and community-based settings instead of much more expensive hospitals.
“We understand that there is a transition in communities where there is more community care that is being set up,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne. “We will continue to increase health care funding as we go through the transformation.”
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The 60-thousand-member ONA said the nursing positions cut from hospitals are not being replaced in the community, and warned nurses don’t like or want the lower-paying jobs offered by companies contracted to provide home care.
“The reality is these positions are not moving into the community for our patients,” said Haslam-Stroud. “A new model of nursing care is an excuse for the bean counters to make decisions about our patients.”
The ONA said the nursing cuts left some patients stuck on stretchers in hospital hallways or closets, while others are sent home too soon with little-to-no community support.
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But Health Minister Eric Hoskins insisted the transition from hospital to home care is working, and he doesn’t think patients are being put at risk by the RN cuts.
“We leave it to our hospitals, they are independent entities, to determine what they believe is the right mix of health care professionals,” he said. “Our quality indicators, our safety indicators continue to improve, to go up.”
The Progressive Conservatives say the 140,000 new patients added in Ontario every year from population growth require more nurses, not fewer.
The New Democrats say Ontario nurses suffer from increased workloads, epic stress, burnout “and a deep professional concern from seeing patients not receiving the care that they need.”