Nurses union concerned about hospital plan to hire more practical nurses amid shortages

Elizabeth Payne 3 minute read May 13, 2022

Amid staff shortages, the Ottawa Hospital is hoping to hire dozens of registered practical nurses to fill what had been vacant registered nursing positions, saying the current staffing situation “is not sustainable.”

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

Registered nurses, who have more education, generally care for more complex, less predictable patients than registered practical nurses.

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

“I don’t have an issue with RPNs. They are a valuable part of our team and they have a valuable skill set. But we are an acute care tertiary centre with a trauma centre and our patient population is inherently unstable with unpredictable outcomes. Those are not the kind of patients RPNs should be caring for,” said Muir.

The Ottawa Hospital, like hospitals across the province, has been dealing with crippling staff shortages that have worsened during the pandemic. Health care worker shortages are a global phenomenon and finding solutions has been a focus of the ongoing provincial election campaign.

It said the addition of more RPNs and patient care aids will “provide much-needed relief” to overburdened staff.

The Ottawa Hospital already employs registered practical nurses, but they make up 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 delivered — and hire 130 RPNs, said Muir.

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

“Registered nurses’ hours are being given to registered practical nurses. Because they can’t find RNs, they are looking to find other healthcare providers to fill these positions.”

Muir said the hospital has told the union that they need to change the model of care and replace RNs with RPNs “in order to facilitate staffing and stabilization and the granting of vacation.”

Staff issues and the pandemic have meant some nurses have been unable to take vacation time.

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 not sustainable, so TOH wil continue to adapt processes to support staff and ensure that patients are given the highest-quality care. This includes adding more registered practical nurse positions and patient care aid positions to certain areas to provide much-needed relief.”


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