New hospital means more nurses needed at William Osler Health Centre

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On November 21st, Ontario’s Health Minister announced that William Osler Health Centre’s new hospital campus in Brampton will be built and will open in 2006 as a publicly owned facility. This was good news for the health centre, which had been waiting for approval from the provincial government to proceed with the project.

The hospital – one of the first to be built in Canada this century – promises to be a health-care showcase both in size and design. Covering one million square feet, it will have 608 beds, accommodate 90,000 emergency visits per year and offer a myriad of services, including advanced diagnostic services, high-risk obstetrics, regional dialysis services, and cardio-respiratory care. The overall design focuses on patient privacy and comfort and incorporates the existing landscape, natural light and green space for both visual effect and relaxation.

Currently, the health centre has approximately 4,000 employees across three campuses in Georgetown, Brampton and Etobicoke. Once the new site is operational, approximately 1,500 additional staff, many of them nurses, will be needed. At the same time, the Canadian Nurses Association is predicting a nationwide shortage of more than 78,000 registered nurses (RNs) by 2011. It is no surprise then that recruitment at William Osler Health Centre is shifting into overdrive.

The hiring of so many new staff will take planning. Brenda Elsbury, Vice President of Patient Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Osler, says, “We have to prepare for the opening of our fourth campus. We can’t go from this to that overnight. We’re developing a transition plan now to determine our future needs.”

A task force of Osler’s Nursing Practice Committee is looking at strategies for recruitment and retention, and the health centre has already implemented several initiatives aimed at drawing RNs from across Canada and around the world. One such initiative is an intensive care unit (ICU) internship program offered in partnership with Humber College. Selected nurses in the pre-graduation phase of their training are offered contracts for a one-year internship in return for two years of service at the hospital. The ICU pilot project is now being considered as a possible model for other departments.Osler also recruits nurses through an international agency. Foreign nurses who come to Ontario have to qualify to meet the College of Nurses of Ontario’s requirements and occasionally have to rewrite their RN exams.

In addition, the hospital is working to address long-standing issues that affect the quality of nursing life – recognition, advancement, and ongoing education. Osler has a policy of rewarding excellence, involving staff nurses in decision making, holding monthly nursing forums and promoting from within whenever possible. Strategies to increase support for continuing education and nursing professional development are being defined.

Karlyne Reid agrees that Osler does more than pay lip service to supporting its nurses. She started in 1986 as a registered practical nurse and has worked in surgery, rehabilitation, and respiratory medicine. Three years ago, she decided to go back to college to train as an RN. Osler paid part of her tuition costs. Working and going to school at the same time was a challenge, but Reid credits the hospital’s administration for helping her manage the demands. “My manager was very understanding. She was always there for me, always tried to accommodate my schedule. I’ve been a nurse for 27 years, and I haven’t always found that kind of understanding at other hospitals.”

Another factor in retaining nurses is the availability of full-time employment that provides comprehensive benefits and a predictable work schedule. Elsbury notes that two years ago the health centre had a 40-60 ratio of full-time to part-time nurses. Today, almost 70 per cent of the RNs are full-time staff.

Jan Dilley is a labour and deliver nurse from Georgia who came to Ontario with her Canadian husband. She was hired on a part-time basis at Osler, but was then offered full-time work at another hospital. She didn’t want to leave but with a young family to care for, she needed regular hours. Osler eventually came up with a plan that allowed her to work half time at the Brampton campus and half time at the Georgetown site. Dilley was happy to accept the offer. “I like it here,” she says. “Even before I came to work here, I had read about Osler in newspapers – about its programs and the new hospital. It seemed to be interested in keeping in touch with the community. That’s important.”