Layoffs at Simcoe County hospital due to funding cuts spark concern for Ontario Nurses Assoc.

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Amid calls to bring more health-care workers to the province, the Ontario Nurses Association worries 13 nurses laid off at a Simcoe County hospital is just the start of a downward spiral.

The Ontario Nurses Association confirmed to Global News that 13 nurses at Stevenson Memorial Hospital in Alliston, Ont., are being let go as of March 31 due to funding cuts.

The association told Global News the nurses were informed Tuesday that the high acuity unit to level 2 ICU and overflow unit would be affected.

The Ministry of Health said funding for those staff was part of “temporary extraordinary measures” funding given to hospitals to deal with increased volume during the pandemic.

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But ONA’s first vice president, Angela Preocanin, said they believed the funding would be more long-term.

“The impression that we were given was that this was funding for a long-term redevelopment, and this funding was given to them in January 2021, under the (understanding) that it was going to continue afterward,” she said.

“What’s happening right now is an excuse to cut staff on the backs of nurses doing our budgets.”

When asked if she thought the government saying the funding was temporary meant other hospitals would also see staffing cuts, Preocanin voiced concern.

“In my heart, I want to believe it’s not going to happen, but I think we are going to see more of this, particularly after next week’s budget comes down,” she said.

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“I’m going to imagine that in the ideal world, there is going to be health care money to ensure that we’re not decimating our publicly-funded health-care system. But I don’t believe that we are going to see anything that’s going to be helpful to us.”

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In a statement, Ministry of Health spokesperson Hannah Jensen said the funding “was part of temporary, extraordinary measures funding given to hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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“Hospitals across the province received this temporary reimbursement funding. As this reimbursement funding, there should be zero impacts to patients or service,” she said.

Global News has reached out to Stevenson Memorial Hospital for comment and has yet to hear back by publication.

Preocanin tells Global that her understanding is that although the units the nurses were stationed in were not always at full capacity, they were often redeployed to help in other areas, like the emergency department and on the medical floor.

“When Stevenson Memorial Hospital was built in 1964, it serviced 7,000 people. Currently, they have 40,000 annual patient visits. That is huge for a small community hospital to manage that many patients in a year,” she said.

The Ministry of Health’s spokesperson did note the ministry has committed an additional investment of $6 million to support the costs associated with Stage 3 of hospital redevelopment at Stevenson Memorial Hospital. The hospital did not comment on what the money was specifically going towards.

“The fiscal years are ending for the hospitals, and they’re going to balance their budgets on the backs of nurses. This is not unlike any other time in history, I’ve been a nurse for 33 years, and I’ve seen this happen in the past. But to continue now when we’re in this crisis is just deplorable.”

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Staffing shortages have been an ongoing problem in Ontario as the country deals with a nationwide shortage of nurses and other health-care workers, leading to long wait times and causing several hospitals to temporarily reduce operations and stretch capacity.

In October, Global News reported that hospitals across the province were operating at critical staffing levels while dealing with an increase in many respiratory illnesses.

– with files from Teresa Wright

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