KHSC details new hires and spending to address regional nursing shortage

Kingston General Hospital (KGH). Photo by Phillip Stafford/Kingstonist.

Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) is reporting some positive results in its effort to recruit new nurses to southeastern Ontario, part of a “strategic effort to offset a Canada-wide shortage of highly trained health-care workers,” according to the organization.

In a media release, dated Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, KHSC detailed that since 2021, the organization has hired a total of 847 nurses (682 registered nurses and 165 registered practical nurses). In 2023 alone, 241 nurses were hired, thanks in part to new recruitment bonuses introduced last year, KHSC noted. Individuals who make a two-year commitment to KHSC, in pre-determined hard-to-recruit positions, are eligible for up to $10,000 in sign-on bonuses. An additional $15,000 in relocation support is available for individuals moving more than 200 kilometres to work at KHSC.

“We’ve certainly had to be creative in how we recruit new staff considering how competitive the hiring market is for nurses across the country. We’re pleased to see the program is working,” said Jason Hann, Executive Vice-President of Patient Care and Chief Nursing Executive at KHSC.

“So far, 98 registered nurses (RN) and 13 registered practical nurses (RPN) have made a commitment to KHSC through the signing bonus program, and we expect that number will grow as more nursing students graduate this spring. Impressively, 59 of these nurses have also taken advantage of the relocation incentive, meaning we’re bringing new nurses into our community.”

In the release, KHSC shared that one of those recruits is Ektaben Ka Patel, an RN who joined KHSC’s Connell 10 medicine unit in May.

“I love working here because of the clinical support we get. If I feel like I am lacking in a certain skill, there are supports that I can reach out to and they are always happy to help,” she said in a statement shared by the local health-care organization. “The teamwork here is my favourite part of the job. If people see me walking across the unit or taking an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine into a patient room, someone will pop in and ask if I need any help. That’s what makes Connell 10 so special for me.”

Along with recruiting new nurses, KHSC has been hard at work recruiting other types of health care workers in positions across the organization, according to the release. It was the first hospital organization in Ontario to introduce the undergraduate nursing employee position, which was developed to recruit students to permanent positions within the hospital’s medicine program. So far, 36 students have signed on, KHSC stated.

“Overall, we’re seeing a reduction in the number of vacant nursing positions at KHSC. In March we were at 17.5 per cent vacancy and by Oct. that had dropped to 13 per cent. The overall nursing vacancy rate in the Ontario east region is 22 per cent, so we’re performing well compared to our peers,” said Sandra Carlton, Executive Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer.

In fact, in 2019 KHSC had a total of 1,771 nurses, and as of January, that number is back above 1750, meaning the organization is closing in on its pre-pandemic nursing levels, according to the release. KHSC said that at the same time, it has seen significant growth in other types of patient support roles, hiring patient care assistants and clinical externs to provide support to the nursing staff.

Another important statistic that is moving in the right direction, as shared by the health care organization in the release, is how often nurses are reassigned from their ‘home’ unit to fill shifts elsewhere in the hospitals, when other units are short-staffed. That number climbed during the pandemic, reaching an organizational record of 90,000 reassignment hours in Aug. 2022, KHSC outlined. Since then, reassignments have dropped dramatically, to just 2,600 hours total this past Decemver, which is even lower than pre-pandemic reassignment rates, according to the organization.

According to the release, in addition to recruitment efforts, the hospital organization is also focusing on the retention of current staff. This includes several KHSC-funded continuing education opportunities that enhance knowledge and skills, and ensure safe patient care delivery. KHSC is also focusing on other initiatives that support staff wellness and work-life balance.

“We recognize that we still have more work ahead of us, but I am confident that we’ll be able to do that together,” said Hann. “We’ve made great progress in the last year, and we are committed to continue this work to demonstrate that KHSC is a provincial leader and that our patients are continually receiving the highest quality of care.”

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