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More than a dozen nurses to be laid off at Stevenson Memorial Hospital amid funding cuts

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As the healthcare system continues to face high wait times and burnt-out staff, a hospital in New Tecumseth is laying off more than a dozen nurses at the end of the month.

CTV News has learned that 13 nurses at Stevenson Memorial Hospital will be laid off at the end of the month. The positions are all registered nurses (RN). Eight full-time, one part-time and four casual jobs are impacted.

According to the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), nursing staff and the union were first told on Wednesday.

The hospital says the funding that is being pulled is related to an eight-bed overflow unit. A high acuity unit is going to be integrated into the hospital's medical/surgical unit.

"The funding referenced was part of temporary, extraordinary measures funding given to hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic to reimburse them for the costs incurred as a result of patient surge due to the global pandemic," Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health said to CTV News in a statement. "Hospitals across the province received this temporary reimbursement funding. As this reimbursement funding, there should be zero impacts to patients or service."

However, the ONA says it was under the impression the funding provided was part of a long-term investment in hospital care.

"We were made to understand that this was part of their long-term redevelopment plan for years ahead, so you don't just put something in place and hope that it's going to be done in a year," says Angela Preocanin, the ONA's First Vice-President. "So that's very concerning that they said that this was not part of their staffing plan. How do you open beds and not staff it?"

The hospital confirmed to CTV News that it had been receiving extra funding for the last two years for the eight added beds and says it added staff. However, it notes it is facing financial struggles.

"The additional capacity that was included over the course of the pandemic to date will be reduced," a spokesperson for Stevenson Memorial Hospital said. "The hospital is facing a deficit for the 2022-23 fiscal year, so to help realign the organization's finances, there will be some changes."

The layoffs come during a time of continued pressure facing hospitals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and when the New Tecumseth area continues to grow. When Stevenson Memorial Hospital opened in 1964, it serviced approximately 7,000 people annually. Those numbers have now grown to 40,000 a year.

"[The layoffs] is actually something that makes me very angry to think that in this day and age when we have such a shortage, we are laying off nurses. Considering this is a small community hospital, you don't have the vacancy rates that you would suspect we would have," says Preocanin. "We also understand that in this situation with these beds that, when they are not being utilized, those nurses are being reassigned to other units, including the emergency department and the medical units, to help support, so they don't have a lot of turnover in these places."

According to the ONA, there are only four vacancies at the hospital, three are part-time positions, and the only full-time one is in the obstetric department.

CTV News reached out to Brian Saunderson, the MPP for Simcoe-Grey. He said he spoke with the hospital's CEO this morning after being made aware of the situation and is looking into it.

The layoffs are set to take effect on March 31. However, the nurses will continue to be paid for the next four months because of the collective agreement.

The ONA hopes there will be enough outrage from the public over the coming months that the decision will be reversed.

"It's the craziest thing. It makes no sense whatsoever," says Preocanin. "This is just the start, I'm sure of it. I would hope that it's not, but my heart tells me that it is the start of something, really, really terrible, and it just is the decimation of our publicly funded healthcare system."

The hospital says it is working to minimize the impact on service levels.

"We are working with our Human Resources Department to ensure as many options as possible are presented to fill vacancies and minimize impact."

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