More than 1,000 ICU nurses wanted across Ontario as COVID-19 patients hit record high
TORONTO -- More than a thousand registered nurses will be required to move into intensive care to staff the 350 new beds promised by the Ontario government as COVID-19 causes a record high number of patients in need of critical care.
Hundreds of nurses are expected to answer the call as volunteers or as part of a deployment within hospitals that now have cancelled or delayed surgeries as part of emergency measures during the pandemic.
“My hunch is we will have a few hundred,” said Doris Grinspun, the CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. “We will support any and all initiatives during this crisis to save lives.”
Grinspun said that in normal times a nurse would be matched to a patient on a one-to-one basis, because their needs are often so complex. She had seen COVID-19 patients be taken care of with one nurse to two patients – a reduction in the ratio by half, she said.
Grinspun added it’s unlikely that any number of changes in ICU beds will truly change the dynamic of the crisis, which has as of Wednesday morning, put a record 626 people with COVID-19 in intensive care.
“The real solution is to stop the spread so we can stop the influx of people to the ICUs,” she said, pointing to measures like implementing paid sick leave, and vaccinating essential workers, both of which haven’t been done.
This week, Ontario promised to add 350 new ICU beds across the province. Some have already been established, nurses told CTV News Toronto, with dozens of nurses redeployed to staff them.
But to make sure that those patients receive the same standard of care will take more resources, said Michael Garron Hostpial’s medical director of critical care.
Answering a question from CTV News Toronto, Michael Warner tweeted, “To run our 17-bed ICU 24/7 we require 54 full-time equivalent ICU-trained registered nurses. To operate 350 new ICU beds and provide the same quality of care, 1,111 registered nurses will be needed this week.”
There are just over 111,000 registered nurses in Ontario. Many surgeries have been delayed, freeing up some nurses, and hospitals have already begun to redeploy their workers to emergency rooms.
Angela Russell, a registered nurse with 22 years in the operating room, decided to volunteer to staff a Hamilton intensive care unit this week.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a nurse since I was in Grade 11,” she said. “I had this drive to take care of people and that’s what I want to do.”
Russell said being a nurse has been much harder in the pandemic with constant stresses from patients who delayed going to the hospital with a medical issue, making them much sicker by the time they arrived, and from whether she would bring the virus home to her family.
“A lot of it was the unknown. There’s that fear, right? How is this going to affect me? How is this going to affect the people that I’m treating? How is this going to affect my family?” she said.
A program called “Nurses Week Resiliency Reboot” will try to give nurses the tools to deal with the stress and carry on, even as more is being asked of them, said former nurse turned speaker Stephanie Staples.
“I don’t think any of us could have seen this at this level. I don’t think any of us could have imagined what this experience would be like,” said Staples. “We’d like to give this opportunity to connect with each other. It makes us feel better knowing that others are in a similar situation.”