The nursing shortage has hit hospitals hard, with increasing media coverage of emergency departments closing, and intensive care units understaffed and unable to operate at capacity. But there is another story about the nursing shortage and how that is impacting other programs outside of the big hospitals.
At Sherbourne Health, we offer several programs that rely on nurses. Our Family Health Team has had challenges recruiting nurses due to stagnant wages, and our Acute Respite Care (ARC) program has been really suffering. ARC is a unique program in Toronto that helps people experiencing homelessness or who otherwise may not have the stability needed to prepare for or recover from surgeries and other procedures requiring an alternative level of care and support. While this program has slowed during the pandemic, with the recent ramp up in surgeries, we have been increasingly operating at full capacity. But this capacity is threatened by the lack of stable nursing staff, and we have had to turn to temporary agency nurses to fill the gaps.
To ensure proper care, Sherbourne Health, like many other organizations, have had to work with agency nurses. It can cost Sherbourne Health upwards of $1000 a day to work with agency nurses. For a small organization like Sherbourne Health, this has had a tremendous impact on our budget and could threaten the full and continuous operation of this program, placing many people in danger of not being able to access the health care they need before and after necessary, and in some cases lifesaving, procedures.
Nursing staffing agencies and agency nurses are not our enemies – they provide a necessary service in our healthcare community and are dedicated to serving patients. But our healthcare ecosystem cannot handle the flight of dedicated nurses to private staffing agencies, where wages are not subject to Bill 124 in the way that hospitals and community-based healthcare agencies like Sherbourne are required to follow. We need our government to compensate nurses fairly – wages that allow them to meet their basic needs so they can address the needs of our patients.
Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system. In many community-health arenas, they are a vital part of multi-disciplinary teams that provide holistic care to patients. Their care, in primary and acute care settings, allows us to achieve health and wellbeing which keeps us out of hospitals. But so long as the discrepancy in compensation continues, Bill 124 caps wage increases, and inflation continues to rise, the exodus from full-time work in institutions like Sherbourne to nursing agencies will persist.