Registered Nurses Association Of Ontario Annual General Meeting
I want to begin today by thanking Wendy Fucile and Doris Grinspun for providing strong leadership, for promoting the important work our nurses are doing throughout our province and for working together with our nurses in an unrelenting effort to improve our health care by raising the levels of your knowledge and expertise.
What you are really doing, year after year, and I'm very proud of you for doing this, is raising your sights.
You keep asking yourselves:
"What more can we do as nurses?"
"How can we do what we are already doing even better?"
"How can we as nurses make our greatest contribution to an ever-improving quality of health care for Ontarians?"
When it comes to the RNAO I marvel at how well Wendy holds it all together when Doris keeps shaking everything up.
They're a great team.
I want to congratulate president-elect David McNeil and to wish you very well.
I must say I am especially proud of the work the RNAO has done to develop and promote best practices through your guidelines.
Your relentless efforts to elevate your levels of knowledge and the quality of your clinical practice is not only elevating care for Ontarians, it's elevating Ontario's stature in the international nursing community.
I might also say, your tireless quest to increase your levels of knowledge and expertise has also helped our government better understand and appreciate what more you can do for Ontario.
And I'll come to that shortly.
But first, there's one more thank you I have for all of you.
Thank you for fulfilling your responsibilities not only with passion but with compassion, because, as you know so well, the best health care demands more than knowledge and expertise.
It is not that hard to imagine a time in the future when machines will be able to both diagnose and treat us.
From a scientific perspective, they will be able to do it all.
And do it well.
I'm reminded of the story about a man and a dog and a building full of expensive computers.
The man's job is to feed the dog.
The dog's job is to make sure nobody, including the man, touches the computers.
But here's my point:
Knowledge and technology alone will never cut it when it comes to quality health care.
Ontario families are desperate to find compassion when they enter the health care system.
Compassion is not a frill in health care.
It is indispensible.
It's what makes care for a human being humane.
And there's no more reliable, dependable, trustworthy source of compassion for our families than you.
So on behalf of Ontario families I thank you, not just for your impressive knowledge and expertise, but, as well for the human compassion you bring to your work.
Over the past five years, we have been working hard together to strengthen health care in Ontario.
Money isn't everything, but it is important.
That's why we have increased funding for health care by $13 billion, or 45 per cent, at a time when inflation has only increased by 11 per cent.
These dramatic, new investments have enabled us to strengthen our hospitals, lower wait times and improve access to primary care.
And we know that strengthening health care means adding more nurses.
So, we've provided funding to hire 10,000 more nurses.
We're guaranteeing that nursing graduates will start in full-time positions.
And we've invested in programs to keep experienced nurses on the job longer.
I know that there is an impatience on your part when it comes to hiring more nurses quickly.
I recognize that.
But I'm also asking you to recognize that these are extraordinarily challenging times -- the toughest since the Great Depression.
As Ontarians lose their jobs and families and communities suffer, the economic pressures on our government are immense.
Just yesterday, there was a rally of thousands on the front lawn of Queen's Park.
The issue is pensions.
The total ask of our government is in the billions of dollars.
We cannot possibly satisfy those demands.
Nor can we satisfy all the other requests for help we are receiving.
Having said that, we will do everything we can to help Ontarians through this storm.
And, at the same time, we will take strong steps to strengthen our economy so it creates the jobs our families need and supports the public services our families count on.
Here's an aside I would like to make.
And it's an important one.
In our budget, we're taking aggressive steps to strengthen our economy.
One of those steps, our move to a single sales tax, is not an easy one for Ontarians to take.
But it is essential if we are to have a strong economy.
Now here's the point I really want to make:
The reason I am so focused on building a strong economy with good jobs for our families today and good jobs for our children tomorrow is not because I believe the economy is an end unto itself.
For me, and I believe for you as well, a strong economy is the means to a higher end, and that higher end is a caring society
A society where: all our children receive the best public education, all our families are cared for in the best health care system, and where all our vulnerable benefit from the best public supports.
So, at a time of great economic challenge for our families, when you and I are called upon to do what it takes to strengthen our economy, let's remember why we're doing it:
Because we are absolutely committed to doing what it takes to build a caring society.
Our work together is more important now, than ever.
With all the economic uncertainty out there, we want Ontarians to have continuing confidence in their health care system.
That's why, in our recent budget, health care funding is increasing by 4.7 per cent even though we expect the economy to shrink by 2.5 per cent this year.
We are determined to protect the services that families are relying on.
We also recognize that our population is aging and that there are increasing demands on health care providers.
So, as we move forward, we have to make the most of our resources -- especially our human resources.
And nurse practitioners represent a deep well of untapped potential.
When we asked nurse practitioners to lead patient care teams to improve access to primary care, you embraced that challenge.
You forged new relationships with other health professionals.
And you showed courage -- the courage it takes to do something that hasn't been done before.
In 2007, you helped create North America's first nurse practitioner-led clinic in Sudbury, a clinic I've had the privilege to visit.
The people who came through its doors -- the elderly, parents and children, teenagers -- didn't have access to primary care.
Now, that clinic provides care to more than 2,000 people.
Those people have access to care, closer to home and the peace of mind that comes with it.
With the lessons learned in Sudbury, we're moving forward on 25 new, nurse practitioner-led clinics across Ontario.
Once they're all opened, they'll provide services for as many as 35,000 patients by 2012.
This is the kind of transformative change Ontario has needed for a long time.
And I'm proud we're delivering that change, together.
But we need to do even more.
You know, when I talk to families about health care there are some things that come up again and again, whether I'm talking to an elderly person or a young parent.
For one thing, if they need health care, they want to get in and out as quickly as possible.
We all seem to be leading these hectic, just-in-time lives these days.
So it's understandable for busy families that when they access the care they need, they'd like to save time, too, if they can.
And when we save that time for them, it makes our whole system work better.
For example, you know that every day there are thousands of people sitting around in waiting rooms and looking at their watch and wondering when their name will be called -- for health services that a nurse practitioner could provide.
So, our government plans to better utilize your skills and maximize your contributions.
Very soon we will introduce legislation that would enhance the scope of practice of a number of regulated professions, including nurse practitioners.
Most important, families seeking health care will experience the difference.
Let me give you some examples:
Instead of waiting in the emergency room to see a physician, you would have your fracture set by a nurse practitioner who is qualified to do it and you'll be on your way home.
People needing a prescription re-fill would be able to make one trip to a pharmacist, instead of two trips -- one to the doctor and then one to the pharmacist.
If you've injured your knee, your physiotherapist could order that x-ray for you.
And if your nurse practitioner suspects pneumonia, not only could she order your x-ray, she could prescribe your antibiotics.
These changes are all about putting more tools into the hands of people who are on the front lines of health care delivery.
Because when patients get timely care, not only is that good for them, our whole health care system runs smoother and makes more efficient use of limited resources.
Making these changes will require flexibility, communication and mutual understanding.
But there's already a strong foundation for cooperation: our health care providers have great professional respect for one another.
And you all share values of service and commitment to patients that have made our health care system the envy of the world.
When it comes to our health care professionals, we want everyone to have the opportunity to give their very best -- so, together, we can all give Ontarians the very best care.
We know there is more work to do.
But I am confident that, together, we can provide Ontarians with a standard of care we can all be proud of.
Together, we'll build a smarter health care system where no one's talents go wasted and everyone works together, seamlessly nurses, doctors, pharmacists and all the hard-working health professionals who have chosen to dedicate their life and career to making people better and keeping them healthy.
I understand nursing is more than just a job for you.
It's a calling.
It's a cause.
It's something you put your whole heart and mind into.
I want to thank you for that.
And our government looks forward to working with you in the days ahead to make the nursing profession even more rewarding for you and even more valuable for all of us.