Ontario’s health minister has announced that 75 nurse practitioners will be hired for long-term care homes.
In doing so, Deb Matthews acknowledged that’s not enough for the woefully understaffed seniors’ facilities, and promised more will come.
The move is intended to take the pressure off overcrowded hospitals by cutting down on ambulance transfers from homes. It is also aimed at reducing the need for restraints — both physical and chemical — by increasing supervision of residents.
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with extra education and training. They have the authority to prescribe most medications, order and interpret lab tests and some diagnostic imaging, and admit, treat and discharge hospital patients.
Ontario’s 630 long-term care homes, which house seniors nearing the end of their lives, have long been pushing for more staffing. With a growing and aging population and long waits to get into the system’s 77,000 beds, residents are sicker than ever and require more care.
Meantime, a significant number of residents have dementia and problems with aggression. Homes say they are having trouble keeping residents safe.
Having nurse practitioners in long-term care homes is better for patients and is better for the system. I want to be very clear that these new positions are the first step.
Interviewed by reporters after the announcement, Matthews said she knows 75 new nurse practitioners are not enough. But she sees the likelihood of hiring 500 more on the horizon, a number that the Nurse Practitioners’ Association of Ontario says is needed to properly care for seniors.
“We do see the time where this will be commonplace in long-term care homes,” Matthews said, noting that nurse practitioners help to improve the care of seniors with behavioural problems.
Nursing and long-term care organizations welcomed the announcement, but also said more help is needed.
“Staffing levels in Ontario’s long-term care homes have not quite kept pace with the increasing complexity of care that is required,” said Vicki McKenna, vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. “We look forward to many more (announcements) that will add more nurses, to build the capacity today that so that we can address the health-care needs in long-term care.”
The province, which has an $11.7-billion deficit, is providing up to $14 million for the initiative, which is to be implemented over three years. Ontario’s health system is under tremendous stress, and the minister pointed the finger at the federal government.
“We are facing significant challenges in health care; we cannot deny that … . Unfortunately, the federal government has cut $641 million in transfer payments,” said Matthews, who is planning to hold a news conference on the issue on Tuesday.
Meantime, she told reporters she is still looking at what can be done to pick up the pace of installing sprinklers in all long-term care homes, an issue that grabbed attention after a catastrophic fire at a Quebec seniors’ home in January left 32 dead.
Some 30 per cent of Ontario homes — the oldest ones — do not have sprinklers and are not required to until 2025, a deadline tied to costly redevelopments to bring them up to modern standards. But even reaching that deadline has been a struggle for the homes, which say they do not have enough financial support from the province.
Matthews said she is looking at what she can do to accelerate a capital reconstruction plan.
Asked about whether she plans to fund the hiring of more registered nurses (RNs) for hospitals across the province, the minister said she does not agree with assertions by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and ONA that at least 9,000 more are needed. Matthews said there are 20,500 more nurses working today than a decade ago.
But RNs say they are being replaced in hospitals by RPNs, registered practical nurses, to the detriment of patients. RNs have university degrees and the skills and training to care for sicker residents than RPNs, who have college diplomas. They also get paid more.
Noting that the province is facing a tight fiscal reality, Matthews said she is commissioning research “to make sure we are doing what right for patients when it comes to staffing mix.”