Nurse Expert Panel Called in to Review Patient Safety at Sault Area Hospital


Message Body:

SAULT STE. MARIE – Concerned that unsafe RN staffing levels have compromised patient safety, registered nurse (RN) members of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) have called in an Independent Assessment Committee to examine the issue.

From April 4 to 6, a panel of three nurse experts heard evidence from Sault Area Hospital registered nurses about the negative impact on patient care caused by inadequate RN staffing levels. The RNs have consistently provided written documentation to hospital administrators outlining their inability to properly and safely care for patients admitted to the 3C Medical Short Stay Unit, but the hospital has refused to staff the department with the appropriate number of RNs. The panel has heard the evidence and will now make recommendations.

ONA First Vice-President Vicki McKenna, RN notes that “registered nurses in this busy Medical Unit are concerned that they’re unable to meet their professional standards because base staffing isn’t sufficient to cover patient care needs or the fluctuations in the acuity and volume of patients here. It seems as though balancing the budget has taken precedence at the expense of the care patients receive.”

The medical unit was converted to a medical short stay unit last September with a goal of discharging patients within 72 hours. This is causing increasing pressure on front-line staff to implement a decreased patient length of stay and rapid patient turnover, without proper processes and supports in place. There are very high levels of patient acuity and the RN-to-patient ratio is unmanageable for RNs and unsafe for patients. In addition, an ongoing lack of sufficient nursing leadership, support and communication is occurring from nursing management to front-line RNs.

An Independent Assessment Committee – or IAC – addresses the professional workload complaints of registered nurses. A hearing is called only when the nurses and management have attempted at length to settle workload issues internally. It is a rare, last-resort effort to determine whether nurses are being assigned more work than is consistent with the provision of proper patient care. However, in the case of Sault Area Hospital, this was the third such hearing to be requested by the RNs since 2012, making SAH the first hospital in the province to have had three IAC hearings to investigate patient care concerns.

ONA is the union representing 60,000 registered nurses and allied health professionals, as well as more than 14,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.


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