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BC introduces minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, $237M in funding

BC’s Ministry of Health has announced a major funding boost, building off an agreement signed with the Nurses’ Bargaining Association in April 2023.

On Friday, the province announced new plans to retain and recruit nurses in BC while setting a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio, something they say is the first in Canadian History.

This will be backed by a $237 million investment.

When a new three-year collective agreement was signed last April, it included wage increases, improvements in job flexibility and access to leaves and increases to shift premiums, on-call rates, responsibility pay and isolation travel allowance.

At that time the province said it would be investing approximately $750 million over three years to implement a new first-in-Canada nurse-to-patient staffing model.

The latest announcement builds off efforts to build better working conditions for nurses, the ministry says in a release.

Minister of Health Adrian Dix said the investment is meant to address staffing challenges being experienced across the province.

“To meet these ratios, we’re making significant investments to retain our existing nurse workforce, support student nurses wanting to have a rich and rewarding career in BC’s health-care system and recruit more nurses,” Dix said.

“Building and strengthening our health workforce means a better workplace for health-care workers, quality care for patients and a stronger health-care system for everyone in BC.”

<who> Photo Credit: Getty Images

The new minimum nurse-to-patient ratios have been established for six health-care settings in acute care facilities.

According to the release, most adult medical and surgical units will have one nurse caring for four patients at a time. In high-acuity units, there will be one nurse for every two patients.

In addition, the Ministry of Health and BC Nurses Union (BCNU) will begin implementing a policy to support the first phase to establish the new nurse-to-patient ratios.

Next steps will see the province and BCNU determine the ratio for other hospital and non-hospital settings, like long-term care and health authority clinics.

Another update on those ratios is expected by June 2024.

Adriane Gear, president, BCNU, commenced the province's willingness to make this “bold” step.

“This is an important announcement for nurses and patients in BC,” said Gear.

“We know that minimum nurse-to-patient ratios improve job satisfaction, create safe and healthy workplaces for nurses and improve patient care.”

In addition, the $237 million investment will be used for retainment and recruitment initiatives.

That includes $169.5 million in one-time funding for the expansion of provincewide rural-retention incentives, GoHealth BC signing bonuses, recruitment signing bonuses for rural and remote communities, and signing bonuses for difficult-to-fill urban and metro vacancies.

The province says $68.1 million in one-time funding will be used for training and licensing investments.

That will go toward expanding the internationally educated nurse (IEN) bridging program, implementing a licensed practical nurse (LPN) to registered nurse (RN) bridging pilot program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Additionally, the funding will be used to create a nursing student tuition credit, an Indigenous nursing student tuition credit and new graduate transition program bursaries.

Jim Gould, CEO of BCNU, said the new minimum nurse-to-patient riots were the “single most-important policy solution.”

Gould said it is important to take the time to get the changes right and looked forward to working with the province on enhancing and improving the conditions for nurses.

“After years of advocacy, today’s announcement is an encouraging step in the right direction toward transforming the delivery of health care in this province,” Gould said.

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