Ontario is making it possible for internationally trained nurses to work in health-care settings that are strained by staffing shortages, Health Minister Christine Elliott says.
Elliott announced at a press conference on Tuesday that the province is deploying internationally educated nurses to hospitals and long-term care homes that are short-staffed, part of a collaboration between Ontario Health and the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO).
“Through this initiative, these nurses who have applied for registration with the CNO to practice in Ontario will have the opportunity to meet their application requirements by working in health-care settings under the supervision of a regulated health-care provider,” Elliott said.
“More than 1,200 applicants have already expressed interest in participating and the matching process with hospitals is expected to begin later this week.”
The minister also said COVID-19 patients’ length of stay in intensive care units (ICU) has decreased slightly, with the median stay currently at seven days compared to 20 days during the peak of Delta variant infections.
“At this time, approximately 600 ICU beds remain available today, with the ability to add nearly 500 additional beds if required,” she said.
Elliott said that government has invested $5.1 billion to add 3,100 beds to the health-care system, with a total of roughly 2,500 ICU beds and 17,000 medical surgical beds. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the province has also added more than 6,700 health-care professionals through its emergency programs.
The minister also said that starting Wednesday, the province will update its COVID-19 reports to distinguish between patients who are hospitalized with the virus from those admitted for other non-related reasons but later testing positive for COVID.
“Today, the data tells us that 54 percent of individuals were admitted to hospital for COVID-19 and 46 percent were admitted for other reasons, but have tested positive for COVID-19,” Elliott said.
“In our ICUs, 83 percent of individuals were admitted for COVID-19 and 17 percent were admitted for other reasons, but have tested positive for COVID-19. While this doesn’t change the serious situation in Ontario’s hospitals, we feel it is important to share this data to provide additional context and support our continued response to the pandemic.”
As for the situation with schools, children will go back to in-person learning on Jan. 17, following a brief shift to online learning on Jan. 5, a spokesperson from Premier Doug Ford’s office said on Monday.
“We know that it helps students to be in school for their mental and physical health,” Elliott said, adding that “we’ve seen the numbers of mental health needs rising rapidly.”
She said the province has introduced special clinics for teachers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and provided over 9 million masks for staff and students. PCR tests have also been made available in schools for when students and staff return.
When asked what has changed that made a return to school safer on Jan. 17 compared to the previous week, Elliott noted that extra time was needed to put the additional safety measures in place.