Letter to the Editor – Ontario Nurses’ Association
October 21, 2020

Haldimand-Norfolk Public Health Nurses Ask Where Are the New PHNs?

Dear Editor,

Public Health Nurses (PHNs) are concerned that their employer, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU), intends to hire only four additional school-based PHNs despite dedicated provincial funding for an additional five PHNs.

To date, the overall increase to the current nursing complement is zero. Only two of the positions from the new school-focused funding have been filled from the current complement of PHNs, leaving other programs understaffed. HNHU has told the Ontario Nurses’ Association nurses that it is unable to fill the five positions due to a “budget discrepancy.”

Since school began in September, nurses on the school health team have been working short- staffed, anxiously waiting for the new positions to materialize. Ongoing workload issues continue for the small current complement of PHNs, who have supported numerous COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care, local farms and community cases. The nurses, who have been working seven days a week, were relieved to hear of the additional funding to help support local schools.

We question why this employer does not intend to use the dedicated funding for its stated purpose.

PHNs are legislated under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to provide a full scope of nursing support to communities and school, including health promotion, protection and preserving the health of populations. The school population is a vulnerable group that requires the knowledge, skills and expertise of PHNs.

The expectation from the Ministry of Health is for PHNs to perform this day-to-day work under normal circumstances. During a pandemic, when the risks for our students, teachers and families are even greater, we question why the health unit is proposing to hire fewer PHNs than are required for this work.

In other health units, PHNs offer support to their assigned schools with a mix of remote monitoring and visits. They are the face of public health in the school community. They are the point person for school staff and parents with questions about COVID-19 infection prevention. PHNs also support schools to ensure adherence to provincial and public health guidelines.

The community deserves better. The priority should be student safety, not budget savings at a time when provincial COVID-19 infection rates are increasing at alarming rates.

Vicki McKenna, RN
President, Ontario Nurses’ Association

(ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 registered nurses and health-care professionals, as well as more than 18,000 nursing student affiliates, providing care in Ontario hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, clinics and industry.)