Politics

Chief nursing officer appointed to help deal with health care 'crisis': minister

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Tuesday the appointment of a federal chief nursing officer tasked with helping the government address what the minister called an ongoing "health care crisis."

The job is being revived after it was scrapped roughly a decade ago

Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos applauds after announcing Leigh Chapman as Canada’s new chief nursing officer during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Tuesday the appointment of a federal chief nursing officer tasked with helping the government address what the minister called an ongoing "health care crisis."

Duclos said Leigh Chapman, a 20-year veteran of the profession, will take on the job, which is being revived after it was scrapped roughly a decade ago.

Speaking to reporters at an event in Ottawa, Chapman said her job will be to "amplify the voice of nurses" and supplement the work already being done by chief nursing officers at the provincial and territorial level.

WATCH: Duclos reinstates chief nursing officer role

Duclos reinstates Chief Nursing Officer role

4 months ago
Duration 1:52
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos tapped Leigh Chapman as Canada's Chief Nursing Officer to help the government navigate major staff shortages in hospitals across the country.

Duclos said Ottawa will not sit idle while the country's health care system grapples with unprecedented staffing issues — shortages that have forced some hospitals to close their emergency rooms temporarily or dial back on the quality of care.

Medical professionals have left the field in droves after more than two years of challenging pandemic-related conditions.

In Ontario, nursing associations also have complained about a provincial law that holds wage increases to a low level, something they say hinders efforts to retain experienced nurses and recruit new ones.

A recent study, commissioned by the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario, found that one in two registered practical nurses in the province are considering leaving the profession in the coming months. Nurses cite poor working conditions and a lack of resources to properly treat patients as reasons to leave.

While some provincial health ministers have bristled at the suggestion that there is a "crisis" underway in health care — Ontario's Sylvia Jones has said it's not unprecedented for some ERs to temporarily close, for example — Duclos said Tuesday there is a "growing crisis" and something needs to be done.

WATCH: Leigh Chapman named Canada's chief nursing officer 

Leigh Chapman named Canada's chief nursing officer

4 months ago
Duration 0:43
Chapman will take on the role of chief nursing officer — part of the federal government's approach to alarming staff shortages in hospitals across the country.

Duclos said Ottawa needs someone like Chapman, a nurse with frontline experience, to provide "valuable insight and expertise to inform the design of national policies and programs," including planned initiatives to expand the health care workforce.

"I am going to be able to count on her and her engagement efforts and abilities to bring people together because we're going through a crisis," Duclos said.

Nursing associations praised the government's appointment of Chapman.

A nurse works at Jean-Talon hospital in Montreal. Pandemic-driven burnout has created an alarming staffing shortage in many parts of the health-care system. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Sylvain Brousseau, the president of the Canadian Nurses Association, said the profession needs to be better represented in the federal health bureaucracy.

He said he's hoping Chapman can help Ottawa bolster the ranks of nurses nationwide.

"We know it cannot be fixed in one day. It's going to be a long road," Brousseau said.

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said she reached out to Chapman to set up a meeting just minutes after her appointment was announced.

She said she wants Chapman to know that many nurses feel "scared" when they report to work each day because staffing levels are so low at many facilities.

"They're scared to do something wrong, to hurt a patient because they know they're working so understaffed that they can't provide the quality and safety," Silas told CBC News.

"They're broken. They feel they can't provide the care they were educated to do. They became nurses because they want to do a great job in their community, but now they're stuck."

WATCH: Nurses 'scared' of understaffing, says union representative 

Nurses 'scared' of understaffing, says union representative

4 months ago
Duration 2:20
Canada's new chief nursing officer needs to work on retaining and returning nurses to work urgently because many overworked nurses are frightened of making a mistake with a patient, says Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions

When pressed by reporters to say whether more federal dollars will soon flow to the provinces and territories to help a system on the ropes, Duclos said those conversations are ongoing.

He said it ultimately will be up to the country's finance ministers to settle on an appropriate dollar figure for health care — new funding premiers have been demanding from Ottawa for years.

Just this week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and three premiers from the Atlantic provinces met in New Brunswick to discuss the state of affairs.

All left the summit calling on Ottawa to spend more than it does now to help provinces deal with mounting costs as the pandemic drags on and the population grows older.

Ottawa can do more: Duclos

While deferring to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on how much more federal money might be available, Duclos said there is room for Ottawa to do more.

"I am an ally on resources and results for my health care colleagues, who do need that support from the federal government," he said.

But Duclos said governments must approach the problem with the goal of making tangible improvements, not just spending more money. He suggested Ottawa is carrying about 35 per cent of all health care-related costs borne by the provinces already — an assertion the provinces have disputed.

The federal Liberal government has said it's not willing to write a blank cheque to the provinces, that it wants some of its money earmarked for certain initiatives.

In March, Duclos laid out Ottawa's top five priorities: an end to service backlogs, many more health-care workers, improved access to primary care, a better system of long-term care and home care for seniors, more resources for mental health and substance abuse and a renewed push to digitize health data and facilitate more virtual care.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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