The head of the Ontario Nurses’ Association has expressed concern as a nurse practitioner at the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit has been laid off as of July 10.
“The board of health has cut public health nurses this year, despite a global pandemic and despite the need for strong public health services,” said Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), in a press release. “If nothing else, this pandemic has shown us the immense value of a strong public health system.
“In Haldimand-Norfolk, what we continue to see is a board of health that has valued cost savings over its community’s access to services and overall well-being.”
The cuts and restructuring to the health unit were announced in early February by Norfolk County.
“The changes come after what has been described as one of the toughest budgets Norfolk has ever considered,” said a county press release from that time. “They are part of a multi-year plan to fix the county’s extensive financial issues, stemming from a range of past actions – including previous budget commitments, skyrocketing debt payments and unrealistic revenue and spending estimates – over which the current council had little control.”
These cuts included three nursing positions, including one nurse practitioner. The nursing union was made aware of the layoffs on Feb. 12.
Since April 1, community members who require sexual health services have been referred to either the Delhi Family Heath Team or the Haldimand Family Health Team clinics. The Health Unit’s School Health Team will continue to offer comprehensive sexual health programming in local schools, including sexual health services for youth.
“Our nurses are very concerned with continuing high rates of sexually transmitted disease in the communities of Haldimand and Norfolk,” said McKenna. “Nurses are concerned about the impact this cut will have on rates of infections and unplanned pregnancies. If people cannot access the Delhi Family Health Team or the Haldimand Family Health Team, where do they go? In many cases, these people are without OHIP, have no family doctor, have limited transportation options and few supports, and live in poverty. It’s unfair to cut services to those who need them most.”
McKenna said it is difficult to reconcile the board of health’s decision to cut the Sexual Health Program with the expressed intent and obligation of council and the board of health to support, protect and enrich the lives of residents in the two counties.
Union representative, Melanie Holjak, said the nurses impacted have applied to vacant positions and there has been internal movement, but there are no positions to which the nurse practitioner can go to.
In the time from April 1 to July 10, the nurse practitioner was on work related to COVID-19.
”These cuts are reckless, and the negative impacts will be seen in the years to come,” said McKenna.
According to the press release from the county, the changes in Health and Social Services are not expected to have an impact on the public, as the non-mandatory services are being transitioned to community partners, including sexual health services and smoking cessation programs.
ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals.