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Nursing vacancies at QHC hospitals Registered nurses (as of June 14): • 14 internal transfer vacancies (five full-time) • 17 external vacancies (seven full-time, all to staff new intenstive care beds) • Part-time recruitment remains a problem. Registered practical nurses: • Two external part-time jobs • Two part-time, one full-time job open internally Total overtime (all positions, April and May): 3,783 • Nurses account for most of the overtime. Reduction from same period in 2011: 12 per cent Source: QHC HIGH OVERTIME: Reduced, but still stressful Fixing QHC nursing a work in progress LUKE HENDRY The Intelligencer The nursing rollercoaster at Quinte Health Care hospitals continues, with thousands of hours of overtime and stress still plaguing staff and finances. Two months after pronouncing an end to a years-long nursing shortage, senior staff this week stood by their

statistics but said they still have problems to solve. They were responding to staff complaints to The Intelligencer that the working environment wasn’t as good as QHC’s board was told in April. President and chief executive officer Mary Clare Egberts said QHC has, at times, been staffed fully but nursing numbers vary daily depending on leaves, other absences and job postings. “I’m not saying it’s easy,” said Egberts. “They have tremendously stressful and pressurized jobs. We do admit that overtime and sick time is still a problem.” She said reducing overtime and sick leave this year is “a huge focus” for QHC. Most of the shortage centres around registered nurses, though there are a few registered practical nurse vacancies. At that month’s board meeting, staff and the president of the local unit of the Ontario Nurses’ Assoc. announced there had been major improvements in nursing numbers and that there was less stress and overtime. The relatively sunny forecast outraged some staff. A few spoke on condition of anonymity, saying there is a “fear of retribution” against staff who speak out. “We work short probably 50 per cent of the time, which means the nurses don’t get breaks,” said one registered practical nurse. “The public needs to know that we do work short. That’s why sometimes, when you ring a bell, there isn’t a nurse right there. We have too many patients with too many complex needs. We’re exhausted. It’s the patients that suffer. “When you have a cancer patient that’s vomiting and all

you can do is go in and hang some Gravol (intravenous medicine) because you don’t have time to hold their hand, give them a cold facecloth and talk to them — that’s where it’s more than upsetting. I think it’s a disgrace.” She added complaints through union channels have failed to produce results. The nurse said her unit manager does her best to help. “She does try to get us extra staff but everybody’s working so much overtime that they don’t always want to come in when they’re called.” “Overtime is atrocious,” said a secretary on Belleville General Hospital’s surgical floor, calling the staffing situation “very bad” and the administration’s view “unbelievable.” In one case, she said, “We had five nurses for a day shift when we normally have 11 … Surgeries are cancelled because they’re no staff to look after the patients.” Communications director Susan Rowe said some surgeries have been cancelled due to emergencies or because other surgeries took longer than needed. “It is not due to being short-staffed, but because of urgent situations that have come up during the day,” Rowe said. Joanne Dodds, the Ontario Nurses’ Association’s Belleville representative at QHC, said the environment is generally on the upswing. The union represents registered nurses; the Canadian Auto Workers’ union represents registered practical nurses. “I think over the past few years people are happier,” said Dodds. “It’s still very busy but I think it is getting better.” Dodds also oversees grievances. She declined to discuss details of those grievances but said most are resolved

without the need for arbitration. She said an earlier ONA statement that staffing has improved was correct but that some misconstrued it as meaning there were no problems. As of Thursday, there were 14 RN internal vacancies, five of them for full-time jobs. That’s in addition to 17 vacancies — including seven full-time — posted outside QHC. All seven full-time external vacancies are to staff new beds in the intensive care unit. Despite that, Rowe said overtime is down by 12 per cent compared to the same time period last year for all positions. However, she said, most of the overtime has been by nurses. Dodds and Egberts said some departments are faring better than others. The emergency, intensive care and medical units tend to have more shortages, Dodds said. Egberts said that’s being addressed and this year, QHC will work with staff to streamline procedures and other parts of the working day. She said the resulting efficiency will ease pressure on workers. Egberts also said she’s willing to meet with staff who say they’re afraid to air their concerns. She said QHC is “putting a huge focus on reducing sick time and overtime.” “We still understand it is too high,” she said. “That’s not only being a financial drain on the hospital — more importantly, we know that’s a huge stress on our staff.” luke.hendry@sunmedia.ca

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