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Nurses’ union concerned about hospital’s plan to hire more nursing assistants due to shortage

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Amid staffing shortages, The Ottawa Hospital hopes to hire dozens of licensed practical nurses to fill vacancies for registered nurses, 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 highly educated, tend to care for more complex and less predictable patients than licensed practical nurses.

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

“I have no problem with IPAs. They are a valuable part of our team and they 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 kind of patients APNs should be caring for,” Muir said.

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The Ottawa Hospital, like hospitals across the province, is facing crippling staffing shortages that have worsened during the pandemic. Healthcare worker shortages are a global phenomenon and the search for solutions has been at the center of the ongoing provincial election campaign.

He said adding more LPNs and patient care aides will “bring much-needed relief” to overworked staff.

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

The hospital told the union it wanted to change its care model — the way care is delivered — and hire 130 APNs, Muir said.

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She said the ONA views the changes to the model of care as a layoff, even though no registered nurses are losing their jobs.

“Registered nurses’ hours are given to licensed practical nurses. Since they cannot find an RN, they are looking to find other health care providers to fill these positions.

Muir said the hospital told the union it needed to change the model of care and replace RNs with RPNs “to make it easier to staff, stabilize and provide vacations.”

Staffing issues and the pandemic have prevented some nurses from taking vacations.

In a statement, spokesperson Rebecca Abelson said The Ottawa Hospital is further expanding its recruitment efforts to address staffing challenges.

“The latest wave of the pandemic has shown us that the current staffing situation is unsustainable. TOH will therefore continue to adapt processes to support staff and ensure patients receive the highest quality care. This includes adding licensed practical nurse positions and patient care aides in certain areas to provide much needed relief.

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