Nurses union worried about hospital plan to hire more practical nurses amid shortage

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Amid staffing shortages, Ottawa Hospital hopes to hire dozens of registered nurse technicians to fill vacant nursing positions, saying the current staffing situation is “not sustainable.”

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It’s a move that worries the Ontario Nurses Association, the union that represents registered nurses at the hospital.

Registered nurses, who are more educated, generally care for more complex and less predictable patients than registered practical nurses.

That’s why the vast majority of nursing positions at Ottawa Hospital are registered nurses, said Rachel Muir, chair of the Ontario Nurses Association’s negotiation unit.

“I have no problems with RPNs. They are a valuable part of our team and have a valuable skill set. But we are a tertiary acute care center with a trauma center and our patient population is inherently unstable with unpredictable outcomes. These are not the types of patients that RPNs should be caring for,” Muir said.

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Ottawa Hospital, like hospitals across the prefecture, is dealing with a staff shortage that has worsened during the pandemic. The shortage of health workers is a global phenomenon and finding solutions has been the focus of the ongoing provincial election campaign.

He said the addition of more RPNs and patient care aides “will provide much-needed relief” to the overworked staff.

Ottawa Hospital already employs registered practical nurses, but they represent a small fraction of its nursing staff. The hospital has about 4,300 RN positions and between about 200 to 300 RPN positions, according to Muir.

The hospital has notified the union that it wants to change its model of care — the way care is provided — and hire 130 RPNs, Muir said.

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She said the ONA considers the changes to the care model akin to a layoff, even though no nurses are losing jobs.

“Registered nurses’ hours are being given to practical nurses. As they cannot find RNs, they are looking for other healthcare professionals to fill these positions. ”

Muir said the hospital told the union that they need to change the model of care and replace RNs with RPNs “to make it easier to hire and stabilize and grant vacations.”

Problems with staff and the pandemic meant that some nurses were unable to take a vacation.

In a statement, spokeswoman Rebecca Abelson said the Ottawa Hospital is further expanding its recruiting efforts to address staffing challenges.

“The latest wave of the pandemic has shown us that the current situation for the team is not sustainable, so TOH will continue to adapt processes to support the team and ensure that patients receive the highest quality care. This includes adding more registered practical nurse positions and patient care positions in certain areas to provide needed relief.”

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