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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Nursing shortage worst in province

There are less than five nurses for every 1,000 residents in the Outaouais — the lowest ratio among health regions across the entire province. The region is also the only area that experienced a drop in nursing positions over the past year.

The latest data comes from the Order of Nurses of Quebec’s (OIIQ) report, published in late November, which shines a light on the major health crisis facing the Outaouais.

According to the report, there were just 4.97 nurses in the Outaouais providing direct care to the

The number is well below the provincial average of 7.7 nurses per 1,000 inhabitants, highlighting years of underfunding in the Outaouais. A 2018 Institute for Socioeconomic Research and Information (IRIS) report found that the Outaouais was underfunded by $250 million compared to similar regions in Quebec.

The region’s health authority said it is not surprised by these numbers, as nursing has been taking a hit in the Outaouais for some time.

“We are very aware of this reality, which is experienced on a daily basis in the various teams throughout the territory,” said Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSS de l’Outaouais) spokesperson Camille Brochu-Lafrance.

The Outaouais was the only region in Quebec that saw a decline in nursing positions, according to the QIIQ report, and Brochu-Lafrance said that career choices, retirement and relocation are the top reasons nurses are leaving the area.

According to Brochu-Lafrance, there are currently 2,066 nurses staffed at the CISSS de l’Outaouais, 190 of which are temporary workers to support COVID-19 vaccinations.

There were 2,276 nurses last year in the Outaouais, representing three per cent of the total number of nurses in Quebec. However, according to recent census data, the Outaouais counts for 4.7 per cent of the province’s population.

“Nurses have a heavy workload. We are grateful and proud to have nurses who care about patients and enjoy their work. The pressure for nurses is mostly in the fact that we have to find a way to provide the full range of services and ensure access in a more challenging environment. We are working to maximize the roles and responsibilities of job titles to expand service delivery capabilities,” said Brochu-Lafrance.

The report also shows that the Outaouais is falling short of meeting recruitment goals. In 2021-2022, the region brought on just 71 new nurses, which represents just 2.2 per cent of the provincial total. The data also shows that nurses aren’t staying in the region either. Of all new nurses hired in the Outaouais between 2012-2013 and 2016-2017, just 65.8 per cent are still working here — another stat that ranks low among provincial rankings. “The Outaouais is one of the three regions where this proportion is less than 70 per cent,” the OIIQ report states.

Brochu-Lafrance said the CISSSO is “still actively recruiting to strengthen the existing teams” in the Outaouais.

The report did have some good news for the region. The Outaouais is among the top regions with regard to full-time nursing positions, as 78 per cent of nurses worked full-time last year, compared to just 68 per cent across the province. Additionally, 54 per cent of nurses in the Outaouais have a bachelor’s degree, which lands the region in the top three in provincial rankings.

The nursing shortage in the Outaouais is wreaking havoc on the healthcare system already struggling with clogged up emergency rooms across the province due to covid, influenza, and RSV.

A child from the Outaouais had to be airlifted to Quebec City in early November because there were no ICU beds available in the region or at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO.)

“The Outaouais CISSS has intermediate care beds that can look after patients who need respiratory support, for example, but cannot accommodate intubated patients,” said Brochu-Lafrance.

“If the child needs to be intubated, they need to be referred to a tertiary center that has that capacity….currently, there is overflow at CHEO. If there is no space available, the Centre de coordination en périnatalogie et pédiatrie du Québec (CCPPQ) is contacted and directs the request to the tertiary center available to receive the child.”

Gatineau MNA Robert Bussière did not respond to the Low Down’s calls for comments on the QIIQ report.

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