Cuts to nursing jobs hurting health care, union says

TheStar.com – Ontario/healthzone.ca
April 26, 2010. Tanya Talaga, QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU

Nearly 4 million hours of nursing care have disappeared across the province in the past 12 months and patients are paying the price, according to the Ontario Nurses’ Association.

About 2,045 full-time jobs have been lost since hospitals began to “balance budgets off the nurse’s backs,” warned ONA president Linda Haslam-Stroud, the union representing 56,000 provincial nurses.

The nursing union says they have kept a detailed list of deleted positions due to layoffs or attrition over the past 12 months. As Ontario hospitals struggle to balance their books — legislation prevents them from running a deficit — nursing positions are routinely cut to enhance the bottom line, Stroud said Monday.

“This is everything — from pediatrics to surgical units to dialysis to medicine, this is across the board,” she said.

But Health Minister Deb Matthews said the nurse’s math doesn’t add up. The Liberals have hired nearly 10,000 new nurses since coming to power in 2003, Matthews said.

And in the push to care for more people at home, nursing jobs have moved out to the community, she added.

“That’s better care for people, it’s more convenient care and its safer care,” Matthews told reporters. “Some nurses are getting layoff notices, but then they will be immediately hired in a new position at a different hospital. I’d be really careful about what you read into those layoff notices.”

The nursing union and the minister have “agreed to disagree” on the stats, Stroud said. “These are actually nursing positions we’ve been notified of. This isn’t just something we are dreaming up.”

The government argues it is taking care of the nursing shortage but it is doing so by providing layoff notices and deleting positions, she said.

In the Legislature on Monday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asked Matthews how she can claim that 4 million lost hours of nursing care won’t harm patients.

“That means patients and their families are seeing their local cancer screening programs disappear; they’re seeing less support for the elderly, less support for people with mental health issues,” Horwath said.

Matthews told Horwath to check her facts and said they are moving positions into the community instead.

“If you were to check Workopolis, you would find almost 500 advertisements for nurses,” Matthews said. “There is a demand for nurses.”

Toronto East General Hospital emergency nurse Faye Loverock was in the Legislature on Monday along with other ONA members. Loverock believes 118 jobs have been eliminated through attrition and layoffs at her hospital. The result is fewer registered nurses on the floor and those who are left are being asked to work longer hours.

“Some of the nurses are up in that sunshine club,” she said, a reference to the annual list of government employees who earn more than $100,000 a year.

Instead of registered nurses, more personal care support workers and registered practical nurses are being used, Loverock said. “It’s a lesser skill set that are taking care of the patients,” she added.

The health minister may argue care is shifting to the community but the nursing jobs are not keeping pace, Haslam-Stroud said.

“It’d be great to be able to provide these services in the community, (but) the nurses are not there, the supports are not there and right now, as far as trying to provide care in the home, we are scrambling,” she said.

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