The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario is calling for more nurse practitioners in long-term care homes.

RNAO's long-term care coordinator in northwestern Ontario, Heather Woodbeck, said there's already evidence in Thunder Bay that increasing nurse practitioners' presence in long-term care homes improves the care residents receive. 

Four nurse practitioners have been rotating through Thunder Bay's eight long-term care homes, Woodbeck said, providing medical care and monitoring chronic conditions on-site, so residents don't have to go to the hospital as often.

Heather Woodbeck

Heather Woodbeck, the Registered Nurses Association's best-practice coordinator for long-term care in northwestern Ontario, says nursing home residents are older and sicker than ever before. (CBC Thunder Bay)

In its recent submission to the province's pre-budget committee, the association asked the government to "protect the safety of our seniors and, to ensure their timely access to quality care, phase in new minimum staffing standards in long-term care, starting with a minimum of one nurse practitioner per 120 residents."

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced graduate school-level education. Their scope of practice includes many tasks performed by family doctors, including diagnosing illness, prescribing medication, and managing chronic diseases.

Looking at 'the big picture'

Even though funding in the province is tight, the investment makes sense, Woodbeck added.

"The costs are prohibitive of transferring people out to [Emergency departments] when they don't need to be transferred. Those [costs] need to be considered in the big picture."

Woodbeck said having one nurse practitioner per 120 residents generally works out to one per long-term care home — something she said is needed now that nursing home residents are older — and sicker — than ever before. 

"They might have ... dementia, along with heart disease and diabetes and osteoporosis.”

Nurse practitioners can provide medical care and help prevent chronic diseases from getting worse, she said.    

The vice-president in charge of the two long-term care homes run by St. Joseph's Care Group in Thunder Bay agreed the rotating nurse practitioners have made a big difference. 

"What we've seen ... is residents being able to be cared for within their long-term care homes, avoiding emergency room visits,” Meghan Sharp said.

Sharp is a registered nurse by training and St. Joseph's chief nursing officer.