Winchester Hospital says nurse-to-patient ratios are improving

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Winchester District Memorial Hospital says staff vacancies have reached a “new low” and its efforts to recruit new staff are paying off.

Of 189 nurses (registered nurses and registered practical nurses) that care for patients at the hospital, located about 45 minutes south of Ottawa, there are currently two full-time and several temporary vacancies, the hospital said in a press release.

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Staff shortages at the hospital entered the spotlight after the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) said chronic staff shortages in the hospital’s birthing unit are making work unsafe and could potentially put patients at risk.

ONA, a union that represents 68,000 registered nurses and health professionals, said nurses working in the unit have long passed their concerns about the impact of staffing to hospital officials.

Last week, an independent assessment committee held hearings over nursing staff concerns and is expected to make recommendations. The committee, which is made up of representatives of the hospital, the union and an independent nursing expert, is something that falls under the collective bargaining agreement.

The hospital’s CEO Cholly Boland said in a press release that recruitment strategies are making a difference for the hospital. The hospital has a recruitment and retention strategy made up of hospital leaders and front-line staff.

“Together, they have leveraged government advertising and funding opportunities, including grant and incentive programs.”

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As a result, he said, improved nurse-to-patient ratios during the night shifts have contributed to “an improved work environment and better care.”

Boland did not directly address concerns about staffing levels in the hospital’s birthing centre.

Officials with the ONA said there has been a steady increase in the number of births at the rural hospital in recent years, and that the obstetrical unit has had unfilled vacancies for two registered nurses since 2007. The result, say ONA officials, is a work situation that many nurses feel is unsustainable.

Boland, meanwhile, said the hospital is still looking to fill some vacancies “but also definitely celebrating all of our staff who work here.”

Hospitals across the province have been struggling to recruit and retain health workers, especially nurses. The issue is most acutely felt in smaller, rural hospitals.

Most hospitals are also facing budget deficits. In some cases, the need to hire temporary nurses through high-priced staffing agencies has worsened hospitals’ financial situations.

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