Ontario Liberals drop over $ 40 million fund that failed to stem loss of nurses

Over the 10 years of the fund, it paid more than $ 6 million in expenses – more than ten times what was paid to save nursing jobs

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Ontario Liberals were forced to abandon a fund of more than $ 40 million that failed to stem the loss of nurses in the province after spending 10 times more on expenses than on saving d jobs, Postmedia learned.

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A decade after the government created the Nurses Retention Fund over fears nurses would be shot down by waves of pink slips, nurses say they are understaffed more than ever and have taken charge of the money management through their associations and unions.

It’s an arrangement no one apparently wanted – but the only option, thanks to an agreement called an irrevocable trust signed by the Department of Health in 2006 under then-minister George Smitherman.

Over the fund’s 10 years, it has paid more than $ 6 million in expenses – more than ten times what was paid to save nursing jobs – to insurers, advisers, administrators and the bank’s trustee, CIBC Mellon Trust.

“To our surprise and serious concern, very few hospitals have applied for funding. Since the inception of the program, $ 577,812 has been donated to hospitals, ”nursing leaders wrote to Health Minister Eric Hoskins this year in a letter obtained by Postmedia.

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The liquidation of the largely unused fund angered Progressive Conservative MP Monte McNaughton of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.

Although the fund has not been used, countless nursing positions have been cut when older nurses retire or leave, forcing young nurses to take on many part-time jobs because of the part-time job. full is not available, he said.

“I hear about it all the time in southwestern Ontario,” McNaughton said.

Asked by Postmedia about the concerns, Hoskins defended his government, writing that the number of nurses in Ontario has grown faster than the population as a whole.

“Since 2003, we have increased our nursing workforce by over 26,000 nurses, including 11,000 registered nurses. This is a growth rate of 23.7%, ”he wrote. “According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the proportion of Ontario RNs and NPs working full time (66%) is significantly higher than the national average (59%).

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Just two years ago, the director of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and chair of the committee that oversaw the fund, Doris Grinspun, said nursing groups would never accept the fund money. After all, the nursing associations had twice agreed to extend the life of the fund rather than accept the money – first in 2010, then in 2013.

But contacted this week, Grinspun said circumstances had changed.

In 2014, when Liberal London North Center MP Deb Matthews was Minister of Health, she said she would find a way to spend the fund, including on nurses working in the community and at home.

Since then, however, less than one percent of the fund has been spent.

“The reality is that the government (hadn’t) done anything to spend it, so that hope is gone,” Grinspun said.

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The fund was too flawed from the start, she said. It only allowed hospitals access when they issued pink slips, which most hospitals avoided by reducing nursing positions through attrition – retiring nurses were not replaced.

There was no leeway to change the rules, as the fund was created as an irrevocable trust at the initiative of the government.

“It was a powerless tool,” Grinspun said of the hold fund.

It would be bad enough, McNaughton said, if the nursing fund were the only irrevocable trust established by the Liberal government. But it appears that at least seven provincial ministries have created such trusts in recent years, including the ministries of Education, Natural Resources, Aboriginal Affairs, Economic Development, Social and Community Services and Tourism, of Culture and Sport.

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“Premier Kathleen Wynne owes Ontarians to explain why every trust was created,” said McNaughton.

“The Liberal government should be frank,” he said.

Postmedia asked Wynne this week to respond, but did not receive a response.

Rather than leaving the $ 40 million in the fund unused for another three years, nursing associations will spend it as follows:

$ 22 million will go to the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario to create an endowment fund from which interest will be used to enable nurses to research and learn innovative ways to improve nursing care. health. In the first year, this interest will total $ 390,000.

$ 12 million will be used to treat and prevent addiction and mental illness among nurses. The fund will be administered by the College of Nurses of Ontario on terms yet to be negotiated.

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$ 6.96 million will go to the Association of Licensed Practical Nurses of Ontario to fund nursing education and training, including helping RPNs in rural and remote areas access continuing education.

Smitherman said two years ago he couldn’t remember why the fund was created as an irrevocable trust – a legal device more commonly used when setting aside an inheritance for minors , for example. He insisted that there was no political quid pro quo.

McNaughton said he is not criticizing the way nurses intend to spend the money that was in the fund. What they are offering seems reasonable, he said.

We’re back in the Mike Harris era

Grinspun is also excited about the new plans that she says will benefit patients and give Ontario nurses a leadership role in finding innovations, but she still fears the province is losing ground in keeping RNs on the front line – the very threat the fund failed to address. .

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“We’re back in the Mike Harris era,” she said.

While there is more AI today than at the height of the Conservative regime in the late 1990s, there is also a greater need for AI as the population ages. she says, and Ontario now has the fewest RNs per capita in Canada.

“I never imagined we would go down that downward spiral again,” said Grinspun, who will share her concerns when she meets Hoskins on Friday.

Registered nurses are being replaced by less educated healthcare professionals, an exchange that compromises patient care, she said.

“This will have very serious security implications,” she said.

North Bay Nugget 2016 ©

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