McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Report on Ontario's community health nurse workforce

Published: January 19, 2007
Dr. Andrea Baumann
Dr. Andrea Baumann, director of McMaster's nursing health services unit.

Should another unexpected outbreak such as SARS emerge, a new study suggests there will be too few nurses working in the community to adequately manage such a crisis.

Researchers at McMaster University and the University of Toronto found in their  study of Ontario’s community health nurses that this workforce is aging, poised to retire, and mirrors the nursing workforce in the province’s acute care hospitals.

"Care is shifting from the hospital to the community sector," the report states.  "An adequate stock of CHNs (community health nurses) is needed for ongoing workload and to meet surge capacity requirements to address outbreaks such as SARS or Avian flu.  The question remains whether the future supply will be able to provide the necessary care."

About 15 per cent (17,121) of Ontario’s 110,596 nurses work in the community.  They are employed in home care (29%); public health (20%); doctors’ offices (18%); CCACs (Community Care Access Centres) (14%); Community Health Centres (CHC) (6%); community mental health (3%); and community agencies (12%).

Currently, only about half of the community health nursing workforce has full-time jobs.

The researchers found the number of nurses working in the community decreased significantly (4.3%) over a five year period from 1999-2004. Some sectors were harder hit than others. For example, home care agencies and physicians’ offices lost a substantial proportion of their nurses while nursing staff in others, such as the CCAC and community mental health, increased.

A questionnaire sent to over 3,000 community health nurses and senior managers in community health found that both believed strengthening team, employer and community support would enhance nurses ability to practice effectively. In turn, this would lead to improved recruitment and retention of community nurses, along with better health care service, the researchers said.

"This workforce profile paints a picture that is, at best, a mixed one," said Dr. Andrea Baumann, director of McMaster's nursing health services unit. "While there has been a replenishing of the numbers of nurses, serious workforce issues remain."

The need for a strong, resilient community work force was stressed in the recent SARS report released by Ontario Superior Court Justice Archie Campbell.

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