Program to keep nurses in Ontario safe for now

Province removed an advisory from its website warning that the key program was under review.

A key program to recruit and retain Ontario nurses is safe for now after the province removed an advisory from its website warning it's under review.

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario raised alarm earlier in July about the future of the Nursing Graduate Guarantee program that provides grads with temporary full-time employment to help transition them to permanent jobs so they don't leave the province for other jurisdictions.

"This program is not on hold," Ministry of Health spokesperson David Jensen said in a statement. "There is no review happening at this time. We have updated the page to reflect this."

However, Jensen could not guarantee the program isn't still being considered for cuts.

"It is too early to provide an update on specific programs," he said. "Ontario's new government will be determining how to proceed now that it has been sworn in."

Recruitment and retention is significant considering Canada's nursing workforce is experiencing its slowest growth in a decade at the same time the population is aging.

The regulated nursing workforce grew by a mere 0.7 per cent in 2017 found the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

"The program is an absolute necessity to ensure we retain the new graduates here in Ontario and they don't start to flee our province for other jurisdictions where they are waiting for them with open arms," said Doris Grinspun, CEO of the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario

"We will make sure that it stays safe," she said about the program.

The Nursing Graduate Guarantee combats a steep decline in full-time nursing jobs chronicled by CIHI.

Its report released in June found 72 per cent of Canadian nursing grads held part-time or casual jobs in 2017, an increase of 19 percentage points since 2008.

Grinspun called it "unacceptable" that just over one-quarter of new nurses get full-time work.

"The Premier and the Minister of Health are fully aware that the number of graduating RNs that are working full-time is shrinking daily," she said. "In fact, the great majority of them at this point are working part-time or casual."

Under the program created in 2007, the Ministry of Health provides 20 weeks of funding for each nurse enrolled to create opportunities leading to permanent, full-time employment.

"If our province doesn't support them to have full-time employment they will go somewhere else and they are," said Grinspun. "We can't afford that as patients or as taxpayers."

The province initially refused to answer any of The Spectator's questions regarding the status of the program or the nature of the review.

The advisory about the review was removed after a story was published July 14 about fears the program could be cancelled.

"The banner which was previously at the bottom of the Nursing Graduate Guarantee Program webpage was outdated and related to an earlier now-completed review which led to changes being made to the program last year," said Jensen.

He said the review concluded in spring 2016.

"Now, as a condition of funding, employers must demonstrate they have the capacity and a plan to transition nurses participating in the program to full-time positions," he said. "This is to ensure that, in addition to gaining valuable work experience, participating nurses would be eventually moved into permanent, full-time positions."

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