The union representing nurses working in Collingwood General and Marine Hospital's emergency department say ongoing and unresolved complaints about 'unsafe staffing levels' has escalated the matter to its 'last resort' independent review process.
The Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) announced on March 21 that registered nurses at the local hospital are using the independent assessment committee process to have their complaints investigated.
According to Angela Preocanin, a registered nurse and the first vice-president for ONA, the independent review is a "last step in dealing with workload issues."
"In Collingwood, they've had at least two years of working conditions that have been short-staffing and levels of unsafe working condition that have affected patient care," she said in an interview with CollingwoodToday. "They brought this to the attention of the employer ... they've had to move to this level of resolution."
Preocanin said the assessment committee process involves hearings where the nurses and their employer each present their own evidence around the issues raised for the review. The committee is made up of three panellists, all of whom are nurses, who bring forward non-binding recommendations at the conclusion of the process.
The review comes after other efforts have been made by the nurses to raise their concerns with their employer, says the ONA.
According to a news release from the ONA, the Collingwood nurses who work in the emergency department are "alarmed by safety concerns for their acutely ill and unstable patients as access to ongoing and timely care is delayed due to ongoing and unsafe RN staffing levels."
The ONA president Bernie Robinson said, in the release, that Collingwood's nurses have "consistently provided written documentation to this employer outlining the effect of inadequate RN staffing levels and the negative impact on their ability to provide safe, quality nursing care."
"What I can tell you is it's about unsafe staffing, and it's about the quality of patient care. They're just not able to staff the unit to the baseline staffing," said Preocanin.
An email statement released by the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital from president and CEO, Mike Lacroix, noted the hospital is working collaboratively with the ONA through the assessment committee process.
"The two parties have met regularly since February, 2022 ,to discuss concerns raised by ONA members related to baseline staffing in the emergency department," stated Lacroix in the email. "All hospitals across the province continue to face health human resource challenges and we are continuously recruiting nurses and other staff to fill vacancies. CGMH aims to be a collaborative partner through this process, as it values its employees and patients and takes all health and safety concerns very seriously. We look forward to the outcome of this process."
Preocanin acknowledged that hospitals across the country are feeling the impact of nursing shortages.
"As we all know, this nursing crisis is catastrophic ... we just cannot keep up with the shortages and Collingwood is not a big hospital so it's not one that's going to have a ton of nurses available," said Preocanin.
So while Collingwood's emergency department nurses have escalated their concerns to the assessment committee, Preocanin said the potential is there for other hospitals to be in the same situation.
"We've had several [independent assessment committee reviews] in the last two years for the very same reason," she said, noting reviews in Kitchener, Guelph, Newmarket, and Kingston.
"This isn't a new process, or something that's unheard of, but when we get to this point, we've really tried everything, absolutely everything to try to resolved the workload issues," said Preocanin. "This is a last resort."
Though the nursing shortage may be widespread, the assessment committee will be focused on local issues between the nurses and the other signatories of their collective agreements, which would include the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital and the Ontario Hospital Association, which is a provincial government body.
Preocanin said the process to get to a review is labour-intensive, and "frowned upon."
"It's not in the best interest of everyone ... because there's not going to be a win-win here," said Preocanin. "The key here is the willingness of the employer to want to be part of the process in implementing any recommendations."
The Collingwood General and Marine Hospital website currently advertises 22 nursing positions hospital-wide, with seven of those in the emergency department (including two registered practical nurse positions).
In July, 2022, the local hospital announced it had contingency plans in place for dealing with staffing shortages, and that the hospital had reduced its capacity in the intensive care unit some weekends because of the nurse shortage.
The hearings will run from March 21 to 24. A report will come out about 45 days or so after the hearings conclude.
The independent assessment committee hearings are not open to the public, but the recommendations are released publicly once they are completed.