(WINDSOR, ON) – A battle is shaping up between the two classes of nurses working in the province’s hospitals, including at Windsor Regional Hospital. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union and Unifor are claiming the Registered Nurses Association wants hospitals to only employ its members, while the practical nurses, they say, are just as needed.
The conflict has become so heated, OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas is railing against the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. He has been joined by Unifor president Jerry Dias.
Thomas, actually a registered practical nurse by trade, says the nurses association, “… is ‘gunning for’ the jobs of thousands of Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs).” He is mostly upset about what he calls misleading information from the Association.
“Last year, the RNAO kicked off Nursing Week by issuing a position paper claiming that changes to the nursing mix in Ontario were putting patient safety at risk,” Thomas said. “This year, they’ve repeated that unfounded claim as part of a concerted campaign to push the government to replace RPNs with Registered Nurses (RNs) across the province.”
Dias, in a statement, claimed the RNAO is repeating its demands to have all RPNs eliminated from Ontario hospitals but, “… have masked their agenda in a call for an all-RN workforce.” He also alleges the push for registered nurses has, “… no viable reason for this demand except possibly self-preservation.”
An assistant to Dias, and a practical nurse, Katha Fortier discredits what she calls the 70 years of studies the registered nurses are using to justify their position.
“Ultimately, with the evolution in roles of the RN and the RPN over the last two decades, these studies have little relevance,” Fortier said.
The registered nurses association seems to disagree.
On the same day as Thomas and Dias issued statements RNAO released a statement claiming there are, “… decades of evidence that registered nurses (RN) keep patients safer and make the health system stronger.”
It also warns that Ontario is putting, “… patients at risk by replacing RNs with less qualified care providers.”
The nurses association added a database on its website containing the evidence it found in its review of 70 years of health-care research.
Over that period, it says it found 626 research studies with more than 95 per cent showing, “… RNs have a positive impact on a wide variety of health outcomes, including reduced mortality, increased quality of care, increased patient satisfaction, and cost savings. Yet Ontario has the lowest RN-to-population rate in Canada and RN replacement is commonplace.”
The association concluded the evidence has overwhelmingly, “… shown that RN care improves health outcomes and strengthens health systems.”
RNAO President Carol Timmings talked of its being, “… remarkable to see all this evidence together.”
Her member nurses, she said, “… must be fully utilized across our health system, but Ontario is currently falling far short of this goal.”
Dias, in his statement, spoke of practical nurses having, “… provided essential care in Ontario hospitals for decades. Their curriculum, training, and skill set has increased significantly to keep pace with the needs relevant to our entire health care system.”
“I’m an RPN who’s married to an RN,” added Thomas, saying his, “… union represents and supports both. Both professions are tightly regulated by the College of Nurses of Ontario, both have a very clearly defined scope of practice, and both have a vitally important role to play in providing quality health care to Ontarians.”
Thomas claims both types of nurses, who actually have different education and training, “… are team players who put the needs of their patients first. For the RNAO to try to pit them against each other is simply shameful.”
Thomas cited a statement from the RNAO which claimed Ontario will need another 17,000 RNs to reach the national average ratio of RNs to population. Lucy Morton, chair of the RPN’s Occupational Division, stated the addition of more registered nurses could result in the firing of practical nurses.
“To put that number in perspective, there are currently 18,000 RPNs working in hospitals in this province,” she said. She wonders if, “… the RNAO’s plan involve(s) severance pay for the nurses they want to displace.”
In her view, what the RNAO is pushing for seems to be unrealistic and unattainable in the current environment, but more importantly, it’s unnecessary. Morton would like to see both nurses’ organizations join together to, “… stop the funding cuts and end privatization.”
The cuts and privatization, Morton concluded, are, “… killing health care in Ontario.”
Unifor, in its statement, said it recognizes the important contribution of both types of nurses and is, “… committed to defending the practice of RPNs in our hospitals.”
Last year Windsor Regional Hospital reduced its complement of registered nurses by almost 170.