BY MONA O’SHEA
Recent media coverage regarding the psychiatrist shortage on P.E.I. has brought public attention to the professional resource ‘crisis’ in our healthcare system. I wish to draw attention to the fact that there is not only a shortage of physicians in our province, but also of highly-skilled and educated registered nurses.
Registered nurses and nurse practitioners work tirelessly for the health and safety of their patients, clients, and residents. The ability to respond quickly and efficiently to critical situations is fundamental to nursing. Every day, they are expected to be prepared to address numerous health emergencies in a variety of healthcare settings.
Each holds the ability to recognize and anticipate changes in a patient – this alone, saves lives. Lately, more often than not, they are facing these situations in a unit or worksite that is understaffed. Recently, Health P.E.I. made a decision to close acute care beds in a rural site until more nurses were found. Bed closures are only a temporary respite for the system and staff.
While the delivery of healthcare services continues to undergo a transformation, it is essential to recognize the key role of the registered nurse. Registered nurses understand the rigorous nursing process through patient assessment, detailed planning, implementation, and follow-up.
They are one of the most extensively educated professionals in the health system and they have the skills and expertise to meet the needs of an increasingly complex population. When they are not present on the front lines in safe numbers, studies have demonstrated that patients experience increased infections, complications, and extended hospital stays.
Across the Island, RNs and NPs are being challenged to provide safe healthcare to patients, clients, and residents with fewer staff. Currently, there are over 70 temporary and permanent nursing vacancies across the province. The staffing shortages are now common in areas like long-term care, dialysis, mental health and addictions, and rural P.E.I.. These challenges are leaving the nurses who are in these areas feeling overworked and unappreciated. Recruitment and retention initiatives must be used to meet target staffing numbers.
Last year, the province announced the launch of a New Graduate Employment Guarantee Program that combined with amplified efforts to recruit increased numbers of new graduate nurses. The program was designed to hire 20 new graduate nurses each year, on top of the 18 who are hired annually through a longstanding sponsorship program.
While the sponsorship and employment guarantee programs have led to the hiring of many of the UPEI graduate nurses, more needs to be done to ensure safe RN and NP staffing numbers.
The P.E.I. Nurses Union has encouraged productive discussion between government, the employer, and the university to ensure the appropriate numbers of nurses are being graduated yearly.
However, efforts need to go beyond hiring new graduates. On the front lines, staffing schedules need to be filled in order for new graduate nurses to obtain the necessary mentoring to be able to work effectively and safely.
The union will continue to push Health P.E.I. and government to do what is necessary to keep the system, Islanders and our members safe - as registered nurses and nurse practitioners are irreplaceable professionals within health care service delivery.
- Mona O’Shea, RN, is president of the P.E.I. Nurses’ Union