Ottawa names new chief nursing officer amid Canada-wide health worker shortage

Click to play video: 'Leigh Chapman named new chief federal nursing officer'
Leigh Chapman named new chief federal nursing officer
WATCH: On Tuesday, Canada's Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has appointed Leigh Chapman to the newly-reinstated role of chief federal nursing officer to offer input on the many issues and problems facing the country's health-care systems. – Aug 23, 2022

As Canada’s health care system continues to experience significant pressures, the federal government has appointed a new national chief nursing officer, reinstating a position that aims to bring more input from nurses to federal health-care policy discussions and decision-making.

Leigh Chapman has been named to the position, a 20-year nursing veteran who has worked in leadership positions in critical care, home and community care, harm reduction and has held positions in academia, research, regulation, professional practice and administration.

Read more: ‘Mind boggling’: ERs big and small across Canada struggle amid staffing crisis

This is the first time anyone has held the job of national chief nursing officer (CNO) since 2012, when the position was quietly eliminated “at a time when the government was realigning resources across priorities,” according to a federal government news release issued today.

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“However, in this current environment, the CNO is viewed as an important role and has been resourced accordingly,” the release says.

Chapman’s appointment comes as the country’s health-care system is experiencing unprecedented strain, including a nationwide shortage of nurses and other health workers. These staffing shortages have been cited by health-care leaders across the country as a major factor in the temporary closures of dozens of emergency departments and reductions of health services in every province and territory over the last few months. It is a situation many front-line doctors, nurses and stakeholders are calling a “crisis.”

On Tuesday in Ottawa, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos acknowledged the challenges that health worker shortages have had on hospitals and health services across the country and the toll this is taking on staff and patients alike.

“With this growing crisis, we need to support our nurses, make sure they are heard and that their challenges are met with solutions,” Duclos said at the CNO announcement event in Ottawa.

“We need the right advice and expertise to inform our path forward, and that’s why we are here today.”

Click to play video: 'Canada’s new chief federal nursing officer applauds government on advocating for nurses'
Canada’s new chief federal nursing officer applauds government on advocating for nurses

Read more: Code Blue: A Global News series delving into Canada’s health-care crisis

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In her new role as Canada’s chief nursing officer, Chapman will play an important role in stabilizing the nursing workforce by ensuring the perspective of nurses is included at the national level and that this perspective helps to shape the overall health policy work of Health Canada, Duclos said.

“Reinstating the federal CNO recognizes the central role nurses continue to play in health care in Canada through their many contributions and expertise.”

Read more: Health workers to premiers: find solutions to ‘crisis,’ don’t just ask Ottawa for funds

As Canada’s CNO, Chapman will provide strategic advice from a nursing perspective to Health Canada on priority policy and program areas, Duclos said, including health workforce planning, long-term care, home care, palliative care, mental health, alcohol and drug use, as well as input on models of care and scope of practice and competencies.

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‘My phone blows up day and night’: Ontario nurses union president demands action to address health care staffing shortage

She will also play a “convening role” with provincial and territorial governments as well as with federal health and nursing stakeholders, regulatory bodies/colleges and educators on key nursing issues. She will represent the federal government at public forums, both within and outside of Canada, the government release states.

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Before her appointment, Chapman was working as the director of clinical services with Inner City Health Associates in Toronto, overseeing a nursing program that cares for people experiencing homelessness who were affected by COVID-19 in Toronto.

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Meanwhile, Duclos says he has been working closely with provincial and territorial health ministers on what results can be achieved to help Canada’s ailing health system and what tools are needed to make those targets a reality.

But he also disputed criticism that Canada’s premiers have been levelling at Ottawa for months when it comes to how much money the federal government gives to the provinces and territories for health care.

Read more: Premiers seeking billions more for health care ask Trudeau to set meeting

The premiers say Ottawa is only covering 22 per cent of health care costs, and they have collectively been calling for that to be increased to 35 per cent. But on Tuesday, Duclos says the federal government is already meeting that 35 per cent funding benchmark.

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“In fact, we have exceeded the 35 per cent proportion during COVID-19, and we’re back now at about 35 per cent, so if we’re to fight on percentages, some of some observers have said, ‘Well, there’s nothing more the federal government should do because we’ve already achieved the 35 per cent  target,'” Duclos said.

“That would be wrong because we want to have a useful collaboration – not a futile debate on dollars and percentages – but a useful collaboration, a useful fight for health care workers in particular.”

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