Sault Area Hospital ‘Prioritizing Budget Over Patient Care’ Says Ontario Nurses Association Vice President

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The Ontario Nurses’Association (ONA) issued a press release yesterday announcing the completion of a review conducted by their Independent Assessment Committee (IAC). The IAC, comprised of an expert panel of 3 nurses, heard from Sault Area Hospital (SAH) nurses who have sounded the alarm regarding patient care that they believe has been compromised by a shortage of nurses to manage patient workloads as well as internal professional practices.

Vicki McKenna, ONA vice-president, remarked that IAC’s are a final contingency strategy written into the collective agreements of over 60,000 Ontario nurses and allied health professionals represented by the association.

“IAC’s are a last resort because the best solutions are when the nurses and administration sit down together in the early stages, when there is something going wrong,” commented McKenna. “In most circumstances in hospitals in Ontario we have been able to get resolution and settlement before we end up with the need for these expert committees.”

SAH has the distinction of being the first and only hospital in Ontario to have undergone 3 IAC’s. The first IAC was conducted in 2011 for SAH’s Renal and Hemodialysis unit and the second, in 2012 for SAH’s Emergency Department. The most recent IAC was conducted between April 4th-6th this year, for the 3C Medical Short Stay Unit.

McKenna noted how “unusual” it is to arrive to the need for IAC’s, and in particular, to have need of 3 IAC’s conducted in one hospital over such a short period of time.

“This is the first hospital in Ontario that has had three of these hearings now,” remarked McKenna. “Certainly the nurses there want to get things sorted out and to get better. In most circumstances, in hospitals in Ontario, we have been able to get resolution and settlement before we end up with the need for these expert committees.”

McKenna suggested that SAH’s track record with IAC’s indicates, in her opinion, that SAH is prioritizing budget over patients.

“That’s my take on it,” provided McKenna. “I’m sure the administration at the hospital will say something different than that but these nurses have been raising alarm bells for a very long time at SAH. It is very unfortunate that we have to go through the time and expense of these committees. And it’s SAH’s expense as well. The reality is that they are spending healthcare dollars dealing with this through a formalized process. Healthcare dollars should be spent on patients and patient care, not on administrations resisting what professional nurses are saying is the problem.”

According to McKenna, the concerns of SAH nurses have been falling upon deaf ears.

“The nurses on 3C don’t have enough staff to provide nursing care as well as discharge teaching- all of the things you need to do so that people can go home safely. The patient volume was too high for the number of staff there now. When SAH nurses tried to talk to their managers on many, many occasions about what was happening, they just weren’t getting anywhere.”

Nurse concerns about workload and professional issues are a trending theme across the province.

“What’s happening is that there is excessive overtime being worked because there is not enough of them. Nurses get sick, nurses are fatigued, injuries happen. And our younger nurses, in particular, are saying that the profession is harder than they thought it would be and that they don’t know if they can do it. The research that is being done on new graduates shows that after five years in the nursing profession a significant percentage of nurses either go back to university to do post-graduate work, never to go back to the bedside again or change professions.”

The IAC’s final report could be completed between the next 30 to 60 days and will be made available to the public on the ONA’s website. The IAC panel of experts will sit down with SAH nurses and administration to discuss recommendations and possibly strategize an implementation plan. However, expert opinion recommendations in the report are not binding.

“The whole goal of all of this is to let the public know that the nurses at SAH are worried and they are trying their best to make sure that patients are cared for properly. The public needs to also know that the nurses are having to fight pretty hard for that and there having to go to these formal hearings to do that,” commented McKenna. “And the public should be asking ‘why aren’t nurses being listened too?’.”

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Of the IAC review the Sault Area Hospital issued the following response:

Members of Sault Area Hospital’s leadership team fully participated in the Independent Assessment Committee (IAC) process.  We understand the issues brought forward by the Registered Nurses working on our Medical Short Stay Unit, and we will continue to work with them to address their concerns as we await the final report of recommendations from the IAC.

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