Chatham hospital cuts will hamper emergency care, say nurses

Hospital officials announced they will be eliminating 38 positions as they struggle to reduce massive debt, a move the Ontario Nurses Association calls short-sighted and harmful to patient care.

Hospital cuts will mean layoffs for registered nurses and bed closures

The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance announced Tuesday that as part of its 2017/2018 Recovery Plan the hospital system will be reducing 38 positions — 26 full-time and 15 part-time. (Google Maps)

Ontario nurses criticized the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance on Friday, saying the impending job cuts at the hospital will reduce access to emergency care, particularly for women and children.

Hospital officials announced they will be eliminating 38 positions throughout the system as they struggle to reduce massive debt, a move the Ontario Nurses Association calls short-sighted and harmful to patient care.

The union's first vice-president Vicki McKenna said the cuts will include registered nurses — 12 full-time positions and two part-time positions.

"Health-care employers must stop trying to balance their budgets on the backs of our dedicated and highly skilled RNs," she said. "Nurses know this will compromise safe, quality patient care." 

Vicki McKenna, vice-president of the Ontario Nursing Association, says hospitals should focus more on patient care, not revenues. (CBC)

Hospital CEO Lori Marshall said the bulk of the cuts will come to the women's and children's departments, which have been operating at about 60 per cent occupancy, while staffing levels remained at 100 per cent.

"We really need to match our resources to the workload that we're seeing," Marshall said last week.

But nurses working in those units do not see those types of capacity numbers, McKenna explained. After speaking with frontline nurses, she says beds rarely sit empty. 

"They (nurses) believe they are at the potential capacity that they should be at for the population," McKenna said. "Their beds don't go empty for long."

Operating at a deficit

Because the Chatham hospital is one of the smaller facilities in the province, the nurses association says reduction of even one RN has a big impact on a unit. 

Union officials say the cuts will result in the loss of more than 25,000 hours of patient care from registered nurses. 

Cuts will also hit the emergency department, as well as clerical staff.

Over the past nine months CKHA has also eliminated 19 leadership roles, a reduction of 22 per cent. 

The CKHA plans to use early retirement incentives and to rely on turnover at the hospital to reduce the staff numbers with "virtually no involuntary job loss."

Money saved through reductions will be set aside to provide improved service at various CKHA sites, including new medical equipment, increased respiratory coverage and more hip and knee replacements.