The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) is calling the situation at hospitals in Waterloo region and across the province “cataclysmic,” as a nursing shortage continues to cause challenges.

The union said there are close to 300 vacancies for registered nurses in Waterloo region. Of those vacancies 140 are at Grand River Hospital, close to 90 are at Cambridge Memorial Hospital and 64 are at St. Mary’s General Hospital.

“We are certainly in a crisis right now. I think healthcare is that a tipping point,” said Erin Ariss Region 4 Vice-President of The Ontario Nurses’ Association. “We’re doing far more patient care with far less staff.”

The union said patient care has been impacted and said it is impossible for nurses to care for the high number of patients the same way they used to.

“There’s no way, when you are so short, that you can provide the same level of care,” Ariss said. “It means longer wait times, worse outcomes with even the potential for death for our patients.”

Ariss was an RN for twenty years in the region. She blames the current situation on the decades of underfunding, with the pandemic as the last straw.

“We don’t have the expert nurses at the bedside that we once had. So it leaves our younger nurses, our novice nurses in a position to not have mentorship,” Ariss said.

ONA suggested hospitals develop retention strategies, fast track internationally educated nurses, increase university spots and provide more mental health supports to help with burnout.

A spokesperson for Cambridge Memorial Hospital sent this statement to CTV:

“Over the short-term we are managing with agency nurses filling in some of the gaps (think temp agency) and providing some relief to overtime and working extra shifts. Over the longer term, we are trying to enhance learning experiences for nursing students with the goal of hiring them once they graduate. We have implemented an Employee Referral Program that provides incentives for current staff to reach out to their colleagues working elsewhere. Another longer-term strategy is to support nurses wanting to develop skills in specialty areas (eg, ICU, obstetrics, etc.), through an internship program. For example, if a nurse wants to work in obstetrics, we will hire them full-time for six months on an internship and pair them with an expert nurse who will mentor them as they learn program specific skills. There is more we are doing, but suffice it to say that nurses are foundational to health care delivery and we will continue to invest in their retention and recruitment”

St. Mary’s General Hospital interim president Sherri Ferguson sent the following statement:

“The pandemic has required us to care for more people, often with less staff who have also been impacted by COVID-19. I am very proud of our teams pulling together to support one another on these challenging shifts. St. Mary’s increased our ability to care for more people by increasing the number of beds by a third and hiring additional staff at the start of the pandemic—something that our growing community will continue to need post-COVID. The staffing challenges we face in healthcare are also being felt by many other sectors. Just as the pandemic has meant learning new ways of working, it has also meant learning new ways of recruiting qualified candidates and focusing on the retention of our talented and valued staff, and that is something that we are committed to doing so we can continue to provide exceptional care to patients when they need us the most.”

Grand River Hospital has not provided a response yet.

Ontario nurses were recently surveyed and 600 reported they were considering retiring early or quitting.

“The reasons they cited were bill 124, unsustainable workloads, disrespect and burn out,” Ariss said.


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