In a move that has been met with disapproval by the Ontario Nurses’ Association, Oxford County public health director Lynn Beath has confirmed that over the last year they have had to eliminate, through attrition, about four full-time equivalent positions.
“In this case we have made some changes and had to move things around,” Beath said.
While they have created no new manager’s position, she said one position, which was also vacant for over a year, has also recently been filled.
Beath said the reduction in public health nurses is the result of Ministry of Health funding being frozen at 2014 levels.
“One of our pockets of ministry funding has been frozen and will be for a while,” she said.
Oxford County public health announced last week that Well Baby clinics, typically held twice a month in three areas of the county since the mid-1990s, will end.
To replace the Well Baby clinics, public health claims nurses will be dedicating more time and resources to meet with families in their homes or at Oxford County Early Years programming.
Beath said the decision to rearrange the programming was about eliminating duplication of services and connecting clients with services, and had little to do with the reduction in staffing levels.
“We were looking at what we needed to deliver the right services, at the right time, at the right place and with the right staff,” she said. “This is about making changes to improve outcomes and service delivery.”
Manager of health promotion, Susan McIsaac, said the new programming is designed to give Oxford County parents more access to public health nurses.
Formerly the Well Baby clinics were only offered in the major centres of Woodstock, Tillsonburg and Ingersoll, making it difficult for families in rural areas to access them.
“We realize that some of these changes are hard for some but its really about more programming at different locations,” McIsacc said. “We were really trying to move away from offering Well Baby clinics in those three areas.”
The cancellation of the Well Baby clinics and the attrition of the front-line nursing positions has met with disapproval by the Ontario Nurses Association.
“If we’re losing nurses by attrition what is going to happen to the work they have done?” asked Vicki McKenna, provincial vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association.
McKenna said the public health nurses had been responsible for “a whole array” of responsibilities including assistance for new mothers, immunization, well baby and breastfeeding programs.
“The facts are that the need is still there and the community services they were providing are now not going to be done or added on to someone else’s day-to-day work,” she said. “Woodstock is a high needs community. New mothers and their families need the support and assistance of the public health nurses. Public health nurses (in Woodstock) are saying they are seeing increased needs for their assistance from families, particularly those with infants and young families and they are very concerned what the loss of their colleagues will mean to the services they provide.”
McKenna points out if a clinic is difficult for a new mother to get to, she likely will not come. The reduction in nurses will likely mean longer wait times for home visits for new mothers.
McKenna said the public health unit should be looking at cuts in other areas to keep their budgets in line.
“The last place they should be cutting is from care provision,” she said.