Jennifer McLaughlin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed several weaknesses and inadequacies in Ontario’s long-term care (LTC) system, which was already feeling the strain of an aging population. The provincial government has just announced a significant investment to improve the system and alleviate the pressure.
The LTC system exists to support Ontarians with advanced care needs. These individuals require frequent assistance with activities of daily living, on-site care, and medical supervision.
There is increasing demand for LTC beds as Ontario’s population ages. Furthermore, the medical complexity of residents is growing, requiring increasingly more qualified staff to provide appropriate levels of care.
Through the Hiring More Nurse Practitioners (HMNP) for Long-Term Care program, the Ontario government is investing $57.6 million to hire and retain up to 225 more nurse practitioners (NPs) in the LTC sector.
“Today’s investment supports our plan to bolster staffing in long-term care and continue to address the need for more health care capacity across the sector,” said Paul Calandra, Minister of Long-Term Care.
NPs are registered nurses with advanced university educations. The NP role expands on the practices that have traditionally been outside the scope of practice for registered nurses. NPs are qualified, for example, to order and interpret screening and tests, discuss health care options and make decisions about treatment, prescribe medications, and make referrals to specialist physicians as necessary.
Those who work in the LTC are typically part of a healthcare team that develops, implements, and evaluates residents’ care plans.
By providing leadership and mentorship to other staff, NPs also enhance the knowledge of other staff members resulting in an improved ability to care for residents.
“Recruiting and retaining more nurse practitioners will not only improve health outcomes for our residents but also provide opportunities for growth and learning for staff within long-term care homes,” added Calandra.
LTC homes can request funding for employment expenses, including salary, benefits, and overhead costs for newly hired NPs under the HMNP program.
For NPs who agree to work full-time in rural communities for a minimum of 12 months of service, up to $5,000 in funding for relocation support is also available.
The HMNP initiative was announced as part of the Fall Economic Statement in 2021. It was also highlighted in the government’s Plan to Stay Open: Health System Stability and Recovery, released Aug. 2022.
The initiative supports the strategies outlined in A Better Place to Live, A Better Place to Work: Ontario’s Long-Term Care Staffing Plan for 2021 to 2025.
Guidance from multiple partners, organizations, associations, residents and families, the Staffing Study Advisory Group, and the interim recommendations from Ontario’s COVID-19 Commission was the foundation for the Long-Term Care Staffing Plan.
Increasing staffing levels is the first of six key action areas of the plan, with the government’s commitment to increase the average amount of direct hands-on care provided by registered nurses, registered practical nurses, and personal support workers to four hours a day per resident by 2025, with an increased focus on nursing care.
At the onset of the plan in 2020, the average estimated hours of care per resident was two hours and 45 minutes. Increasing daily hours of care to four hours per resident is an increase of 45 per cent.
The plan estimates that meeting the four-hour target will require hiring more than 27,000 nursing and personal support worker staff.