An independent panel of nursing experts sent by the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) have begun a process investigating inadequate staffing concerns at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC).
The assessment, focused on KGH’s Connell 10 internal medicine unit, kicked off on Monday due to the ONA and members feeling that the “current work environment fails to support the delivery of quality, safe patient care and puts these vulnerable patients at risk of serious harm”, with an aim of ultimately improving the specialized care patients receive in the unit.
An Independent Assessment Committee (IAC) at a specific unit is deemed necessary when concerns have already been brought to the attention of the employer but the issues haven’t been resolved to the satisfaction of nurses or the ONA.
The process involves three RN experts examining professional responsibility and assessing workload issues, reviewing evidence from both union members and hospital administrators.
ONA’s President Erin Ariss says this investigation isn’t a first step, and that it takes a lot to order an IAC.
She says members working at KGH have been reporting terrible conditions on the Connell 10 unit that have escalated since before the pandemic and will continue to escalate if not dealt with, with the major concern being inadequate staffing.
“We’re seeing our members work on that unit and they are often doing the work of four nurses because they are so chronically understaffed,” Ariss said.
“But also there’s other issues around violence, about delayed care, about patient safety that they’re trying to resolve and we’re just not seeing a commitment from the hospital.”
In a statement, KHSC says it looks forward to the third-party perspective an IAC will provide, and at its conclusion the hospital network will seek to find mutually agreeable ways to translate recommendations into actions – noting that the staffing concerns being brought forward aren’t unique to Kingston.
“We see this IAC hearing as an opportunity to learn from others in the province who will share their own unique perspectives on province-wide issues such as staffing challenges. At KHSC, we regularly review and work to stabilize our current baseline staffing levels, which, despite significant recruitment efforts, we continue to be challenged to meet due to a shortage of health-care workers across the province,” a statement from KHSC says.
“We remain committed to collaborating to provide the safest care experiences possible for patients, their families, and staff. We look forward to receiving the final IAC report and reviewing it with staff to develop an action plan.”
While staffing issues are present all throughout Ontario, which is the province with the lowest number of RNs per capita, Ariss says if an IAC is being brought into the hospital the complaints have to be fairly serious and the province wide shortage doesn’t excuse the problem at KHSC.
She says most other hospital networks that are similar in size to KHSC have not had to experience an IAC, whereas KHSC is seeing its second in just over a year, and could have three more on the way.
“We know that there’s staffing issues across Ontario… we know that there is a systemic issue,” Ariss said.
“But it is unacceptable that Kingston Health Sciences has more than likely five Independent Assessment Committees that will occur within the span of a couple years, that is quite unusual.”
KHSC previously had an IAC investigate patient care in the Mental Health and Addiction Care Program (MHAP) at Kingston General Hospital, with the panel reporting 64 recommendations last December.
Ariss says in spite of those recommendations, meaningful change has not been made.
“I can tell you that they made recommendations that the hospital is not implementing, and that’s another issue entirely,” Ariss said.
“Patients, advocates, loved ones and families of patients should be concerned that a panel of experts makes recommendations and a hospital is not doing their best to implement those recommendations.”
The ONA President says it’s concerning that none of the issues raised can be resolved without the union taking it to the very last step of bringing in an IAC.
The IAC will be on site for three days, wrapping up its investigation on Wednesday.
It takes approximately 45 days for a report on findings to be published by the committee, so it is unlikely to come until early 2024.