Hospitals in Chatham-Kent are faring better than most across the province when it comes to staff vacancies.
Chief Nursing Executive Meredith Whitehead told reporters during a media briefing on Monday the staff vacancy rate at Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) is almost half the provincial average and currently sits at 6.67 per cent, down from 7.97 per cent two months ago and 8.1 per cent last summer.
Whitehead also noted CKHA has made "significant strides" to hire Registered Nurses (RNs) and said CKHA is very proud of the accomplishment. She said the average vacancy rate for RNs reported by the Ontario Hospital Association as of March was 15.46 per cent compared to the CKHA average of 11.04 per cent.
"This is something this organization is incredibly proud of. It provides a more encouraging outlook for hospital staffing during our peak vacation period this summer compared to where we were last year," said Whitehead.
Staff vacations were cancelled during the peak of the pandemic because the hospitals in Chatham and Wallaceburg needed all hands on deck to deal with COVID-19 patient surges.
Whitehead said 21 new graduate nurses have also been hired by CKHA, adding 14 were previously "externs" or nursing students trained at CKHA.
"The students continue to report that they're having positive experiences when they're here during their placement and that's a great opportunity for us as well as making sure some of our graduates who live here get to practice where they live," Whitehead added.
Whitehead also noted that CKHA has secured 20 more nursing spaces through the Community Commitment Program that provides $25,000 in grant money to eligible nurses in exchange for a two-year commitment to an eligible employer.
Whitehead pointed out no agency or contract nurses were ever used during the pandemic, something that took place at other hospitals in Ontario to ease their nursing shortages.
CKHA President Lori Marshall said the nursing burnout the public hears about regularly is real, but wouldn't compare the local situation with other hospitals across the province.
Marshall said the pandemic was extremely difficult on everyone, especially nurses, adding that CKHA has put a lot of effort and emphasis into mental health services to support its staff.
"We are encouraged by our low turn over rate and our low vacancy rate that has been steadily coming down," said Marshall.