Ottawa Hospital to cut nursing jobs

Officials dispute nurse union's numbers as spectre of longer patient wait times loom


The union representing nurses at The Ottawa Hospital says it has been told 190 positions, or about five per cent of the institution's total nursing staff, will be eliminated.

Union officials said the hospital has formally informed them Thursday that 70 nursing jobs will be cut, and another 120 job vacancies will remain unfilled.

The union characterized the cuts as the largest to date by an Ontario hospital.
"This is as big as it gets in Ontario that I've seen in the last six months," said Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the Ontario Nurses Association, which represents the hospital's 3,900 registered nurses.

Haslam-Stroud said the cuts amount to about 300,000 hours of lost nursing care to patients, who will inevitably face ever longer delays for emergency care and elective surgery.

Hospital officials dispute the union's numbers, saying it has so far only given notice of cuts to 70 nursing positions, including 48 jobs that would be eliminated through early retirement, reassigning nurses to other duties, or layoffs. The remaining 22 positions are vacancies that would remain unfilled.

"We have 48 people who are affected, and that is before we go through all the steps in our redeployment and early retirement process," said Michael Cuddihy, the hospital's vice-president of human resources.

Cuddihy said the hospital has notified its three unions of a total of 133 jobs that are to be eliminated.
In a statement posted to its website the hospital said:
"Under the current economic circumstances, hospitals, like every other sector, must provide responsible stewardship of scarce public resources. That is why certain vacancies have been closed.
"As of now, no employee has lost their job," the statement continued. "Most, in fact, will continue working at TOH even after the reorganization. We have simply provided our unions with appropriate notice, at the beginning of the restructuring process, as required by collective bargaining."

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4000, which represents 3,200 hospital support staff and nurses at the hospital, said it has been told of cuts that will affect 58 hospital orderlies, registered practical nurses and the medical transcriptionists who convert doctors' notes into patient records.

CUPE local president Bruce Waller said 27 registered practical nurses have already lost their jobs, the result of 28 hospital beds that are being phased out as some elderly patients are transferred to Valley Stream Manor, a privately run retirement home.

A third union, representing 2,300 paramedical staff, has been told eight therapists, representing the equivalent of four full-time positions, will lose their jobs. Rick Janson, spokesman for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said most of the employees affected work in the mental-health program.

Collective agreements require the hospital to give its unions five months of notice ahead of any final decision on staffing cuts. Union officials said cuts would start in July.

Waller said CUPE was told "there may be further staff impact."
The cuts are being made in an effort to balance the hospital's $970-million budget. Heading into the 2010-11 fiscal year, which starts in April, The Ottawa Hospital faces a shortfall of $19 million, and that's based on a best-case scenario of a two-per-cent provincial funding increase, said Cuddihy.

Haslam-Stroud said the nurses who remain after the cuts will inevitably have even more patients added to their workloads, compounding their existing stress levels.
The cuts could also increase a patient's risk of being a victim of a medical error or contracting an infection while in hospital, said Haslam-Stroud.

She pointed to the pressures facing both The Ottawa Hospital and Queensway Carleton Hospital, which announced this week that they were temporarily cancelling a number of elective surgeries and accepting fewer patients from other hospitals because of an overload of patients.

"Those pressures are only going to get worse," said Haslam-Stroud.

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