Nursing shortage to hit Windsor-Essex in next 5 years

Windsor-Essex will experience a shortage of nurses within the next five years, local experts say. There will be more jobs than officials can fill.

A fifth of nurses with Erie St. Clair LHIN are over the age of 55

Anthony Valeri, a fourth year nursing student, is considering working across the border because there is a lack of jobs in Windsor-Essex, even though there will be a need for nurses in the years to come. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Windsor-Essex will experience a shortage of nurses within the next five years, local experts say. There will be more jobs than officials can fill.

That's despite recent layoffs at Windsor Regional Hospital, where management will eliminate 126 registered nurse positions to make up for a $20-million budget shortfall. The hospital will, instead, hire 80 new registered practical nurses. 

The looming shortage will be caused by combination of retirements, fewer students getting into the profession and nursing graduates leaving the region.

Janice Kaffer, CEO of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, acknowledged the potential shortage.

"It concerns me as an administrator; it concerns me as a consumer of health care services, as a grandmother, as a mother," she said. "We want to have a healthy system."

Aging nurses

At 22 per cent, more than a fifth of the Erie St. Clair LHIN's nurses are over the age of 55. At Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, 9.3 per cent of its registered nurses and 11.5 per cent of the registered practical nurses are over the age of 60. 

"That's not a small number," said Kaffer. "There will be opportunities locally for those nurses who can hang in a little bit." 

Kaffer acknowledges her biggest concern is a skills gap that will happen when older, more experienced nurses retire before the younger crop fill those roles. 

"I don't know if any of us have it all figured out yet, to be honest with you," she said. "We're still working through how that will look and how to manage that.

"Many nurses who retire at 55, they don't necessarily want to stop working entirely. Perhaps they could be coaxed back into the system on part time or casual basis to provide that mentorship." 

However, Kaffer said the health care system is changing. She predicts there will be more opportunities in community-based care, as opposed to hospital-based care, and that's also where graduates should look for jobs. 

Casual, part-time work

Meanwhile, Kaffer said younger, newer nurses should be looking for casual or part-time work. 

"It really is almost next to impossible for an external candidate to get a full time job right out of nursing," she said. "That's a reality we all need to get comfortable talking about." 

However, some nurses eager to work often leave the area rather than wait or work part-time.

Debbie Kane, a registered nurse and professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Windsor, told CBC News that, in her experience, many graduates who do end up leaving, do not return.

"You're losing that qualified group of new grads who are going elsewhere. Some of them are leaving nursing if they can't get a full time position," Kane said. 

'Other places are welcoming'

Kane said there was a shortage of nurses back in the 1990s. She claims the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario made an effort to recruit nurses.

"The ministry put out money," Kane said. "RNA put out the energy to recruit, mostly [Canadian nurses] from the U.S., and they brought six nurses back.

"So, it's evidence once the nurses establish themselves in other areas, they're much less likely to come back to work in our area, and that's problematic."

Anthony Valeri is a fourth-year nursing student at the University of Windsor, who was born and raised in Tecumseh. He is one of about 300 nursing students who graduate from the University of Windsor each year. 

"It is frustrating because, ultimately, we'd like to stay within Canada to work," Valeri said. "It's not that we want to leave here. It's just that opportunity calls. As a young person coming out of school, I want to work. The U.S. and other places in Canada are welcoming us." 

By the numbers

Age of nurses employed in Erie St. Clair LHIN:

  • 18-29: 17.5 per cent
  • 30-54: 60.3 per cent
  • 55-plus: 22.2 per cent

Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare breakdown:

  • RNs over 55: 22.5 per cent
  • RPNs over 55: 17 per cent
  • RN average age: 43.76 years
  • RPN average : 41.76 years

Windsor Regional Hospital breakdown: 

  • RNs over 55: 15.95 per cent
  • RPNs over 55: not provided
  • RN average age: 45 years
  • RPN average age: 39.6 years (but, 11 per cent of total RPNs average 55 years old)