The hospital encourages doctors, medical students to fill nursing shortages

Ottawa Hospital, its senior physician wrote in a memo reaching out to an extended group, including physicians and “health care students,” for volunteers to help with patient care at bedside.

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Ottawa Hospital has sent an urgent request to doctors and medical students to fill in nurses as the staffing crisis in the health care system worsens.

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In a message sent to all medical staff this week, the hospital’s chief physician said the COVID-19 situation “has brought us to the point where there is a significant strain on our ability to provide healthcare at TOH.”

Hospitals and other health care facilities in Ontario are facing critical staff shortages and sharply rising demand amid record-breaking COVID cases driven by the Omicron variant.

“The increasing number of patients and the need to open beds in unconventional rooms, combined with staff shortages due to COVID disease, has led to a critical shortage of staff to care for these patients,” wrote Dr. Kathleen Gartke in the note entitled “Urgent Action Required”.

The hospital, she wrote, reaches out to an extended group, including doctors and “health care students,” for volunteers to help with patient care by the bedside. Volunteers would work “in a non-physician role” in areas in need of assistance – essentially performing the work of nurses.

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The work would be carried out under supervision, according to the memo, and those who volunteered to do the work would be paid $ 170 or $ 220 per hour. The higher amount applies when working on weekends, public holidays or after working hours. This is the same amount that Ontario doctors who volunteered to work in vaccination clinics have been paid during the pandemic. It’s also about three times as much as nurses with 25 years of experience earn for the same work, noted Rachel Muir, a nurse at Ottawa Hospital and president of the local bargaining unit of the Ontario Nurses’ Association.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Abelson said the call was a new initiative. “Like other hospitals in the region, TOH is relocating staff to help with the increased need for patient care during this wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The hospital continues to actively recruit nurses and other health professionals, she said.

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Ottawa Hospital and other hospitals have reassigned nurses to other jobs during the pandemic. Nurses and some doctors in the province worked as PSWs to help hard-hit long-term care homes during previous waves, but this is believed to be the first time doctors have been asked to provide bedside care in Ottawa to alleviate staff shortages.

The memo, which has been reviewed by this newspaper, is a sign of how the pandemic – especially during this Omicron-driven wave – is forcing healthcare institutions to look for solutions to critical staff shortages and other challenges. Earlier this month, the Ontario government postponed everything but emergency and emergency surgeries and procedures to remove the pressure from overwhelmed hospitals. But the pressure continues to grow.

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“We’re so desperately lacking frontline staff that they’re starting to have to look at other people,” Muir said. But bringing in doctors, medical students or other students raises other concerns for nurses, she added.

“We’re at the point where we want to receive the help we can get, but it’s worrying that we’re ourselves at this point,” said Rachel Muir, a nurse at Ottawa Hospital and president of the Ontario Local Negotiation Unit. Nurses’ Association. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

Among these concerns is that the move will increase the workload of nurses who are already exhausted. Medical students need additional supervision, she said.

“They need the guidance and instruction that every student needs,” Muir said, adding that medical students did not receive the same medical education as nursing students.

And she said any good doctor recognized that they were not trained to perform bed care.

Help is badly needed, she said, but things should not have gotten this far.

“We absolutely need the help. We’re at the point where we want to accept the help we can get, but it’s worrying that we’re ourselves at this point. We’ve been knocking on this drum for 20 years that “We are short of health care. We have managed, but because of this mass exodus (due to illness and nurses leaving during the pandemic), we are desperate and have to be extremely inventive,” she said.

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“It’s sad and scary. Our healthcare system should be better than this.”

Among other things, many nurses blame Ontario’s Bill 124, which limits wages along with restrictions on negotiations and vacations, to drive nurses away from the profession.

The Ontario government announced this week that it is recruiting foreign-trained nurses to work in hospitals, as well as nursing students, to help alleviate staff shortages.

Queensway Carleton Hospital has not asked doctors and medical students to fill out nursing shifts, spokeswoman Kelly Spence said, but nursing students work on wards and some clinical leaders have “put scrubs back on” to help.

It and other hospitals are also considering bringing in non-clinical staff, such as administrators, to help monitor, feed or assist patients or to assist nurses in getting things they need.

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Staff could support clinical teams but would not provide clinical support, Spence said.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 3,630 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 and 500 people in intensive care. There were 35 new deaths.

Ottawa Public Health on Thursday reported 57 patients in the hospital and eight in the intensive care unit, but hospitals are reporting significantly higher numbers. The difference is partly explained because hospitals can report patients admitted for other reasons, but who test positive for COVID-19. As of Tuesday, Ottawa Hospital had 126 patients with COVID-19. As of Wednesday, there were 82 patients admitted to Queensway Carleton Hospital who had tested positive for COVID-19, including patients admitted for other medical reasons, and Montfort Hospital reported 42 patients who had COVID-19.

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