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Nurse-to-patient ratios unveiled as B.C. pumps $237M into nurse incentives

Health Minister Adrian Dix says 1st-in-Canada ratios will improve care, reduce burnout
Health Minister Adrian Dix, here seen at an announcement for a new hospital in Surrey B.C. on Tuesday, September 12, 2023, said new six minimum nurse-to-patient ratios will improve quality of care for patients and working environments for nurses. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns)

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday (March 1) that B.C. is making history by becoming Canada’s first province with minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.

“It has been shown that minimum nurse-to-patient ratios improve the quality of care, allow nurses to spend more time with patients and reduce the risk of nurses experiencing burnout,” Dix said.

Friday saw government release six ratios for hospital settings. One nurse will look after four patients 24/7 year-round in general medical/surgical in-patient settings. Hospital settings with higher ratio include intensive care (with one nurse per patient), high acuity (1:2), as well as palliative and focused special care with both at one nurse per three patients.

The ratio for rehabilitation varies depending on the time of day: one nurse per five patients during day and evening hours, one nurse per seven patients during night hours.

Work on implementing those ratios will start immediately and the government will announce ratios for additional hospital and non-hospital settings by June 2024.

Government had first announced that it would introduce ratios in April as part of its collective bargaining agreement with the union representing B.C. nurses.

Adriane Gear, president of the British Columbia Nurses’ Union, joined Dix in making the announcement. Gear, whose organization, helped shape the ratio, called them a “bold step” that will improve job satisfaction while creating safe and healthy workplaces.

RELATED: B.C. set to introduce nurse-to-patient ratios, a first in Canada

Dix also announced $237-million to help retain nurses currently working. The money will also be used to recruit new nurses and encourage former ones to return.

About 71 per cent of the money — just under $170 million — will go toward programs designed to retain and recruit more nurses to rural and remote areas of B.C., as well fill difficult vacancies in urban regions. These measures include signing bonuses that could hit up to $15,000, $20,000 and $30,000 depending on position and geography. Money will also go toward GoHealth BC, the province’s travel nursing program.

The remaining funds will go toward training and licensing, with some aimed at programs that help internationally trained nurses make the switch toward the B.C. system. Other programs open the doors for First Nations to enter the profession, while others allow licensed practical nurse upgrade their credentials to registered nurses.

Ministry staff indicated the agreement with BCNU does not include a deadline, but added all efforts will be made to meet the ratios. Some hospitals have already meet them while others will need to recruit additional staff. Ratios can also be met through adjustments in working hours. Incentives will kick in April 1.

Dix said B.C. is leading North America, and even the world in terms of retaining and recruiting nurses, pointing to new statistics that show B.C. leading Canadian provinces in growing its nursing workforce between 2017 and 2022.

“However, we have to continue to do better to improve the quality of life and that is key to the retention of our current nurses to to improve patient care and continue our efforts to recruit, particularly in rural and remote areas,” he said.

“In the last three (years), 542,000 more people have joined the provincial medical services plan,” he said. That is about 10 per cent of B.C.’s population, he added. “So this is a very significant increase in demand.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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