Ektaben Ka Patel speaks with a colleague on Connell 10
RN Ektaben Ka Patel (right) joined KHSC's Connell 10 medicine unit in May and says that the teamwork on the unit is her favourite part of her job.
Matthew Manor

Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) is seeing some positive results in its effort to recruit new nurses to southeastern Ontario, part of a strategic effort to offset a Canada-wide shortage of highly trained health-care workers.

Since 2021, KHSC has hired a total of 847 nurses (682 registered nurses and 165 registered practical nurses). 241 nurses were hired in 2023 alone, thanks in part to new recruitment bonuses introduced last year. Individuals who make a two-year commitment to KHSC, in pre-determined hard to recruit positions, are eligible for up to $10,000 in sign-on bonuses. An additional $15,000 relocation support is available for individuals who will be moving more than 200 kilometers to work at KHSC.

“We’ve certainly had to be creative in how we recruit new staff considering how competitive the hiring market is for nurses across the country,” says Jason Hann, Executive Vice-President of Patient Care and Chief Nursing Executive at KHSC. “We’re pleased to see the program is working.

“So far, 98 registered nurses (RN) and 13 registered practical nurses (RPN) have made a commitment to KHSC through the signing bonus program, and we expect that number will grow as more nursing students graduate this spring. Impressively, 59 of these nurses have also taken advantage of the relocation incentive, meaning we’re bringing new nurses into our community.”

One of those new recruits is Ektaben Ka Patel, an RN who joined KHSC’s Connell 10 medicine unit in May.

“I love working here because of the clinical support we get. If I feel like I am lacking in a certain skill, there are supports that I can reach out to and they are always happy to help,” she says. “The teamwork here is my favourite part of the job. If people see me walking across the unit or taking an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine into a patient room, someone will pop in and ask if I need any help. That’s what makes Connell 10 so special for me.”

Along with recruiting new nurses, KHSC has been hard at work recruiting other types of health care workers in positions across the organization. It was the first hospital in Ontario to introduce the undergraduate nursing employee position, which was developed to recruit students to permanent positions within the hospital’s medicine program. So far, 36 students have signed on.

“Overall, we’re seeing a reduction in the number of vacant nursing positions at KHSC. In March we were at 17.5 per cent vacancy and by Oct. that had dropped to 13 per cent. The overall nursing vacancy rate in the Ontario east region is 22 per cent, so we’re performing well compared to our peers,” says Sandra Carlton, Executive Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer.

In fact, in 2019 KHSC had a total of 1771 nurses, and as of January that number is back above 1750, meaning the organization is closing in on its pre-pandemic nursing levels. At the same time, KHSC has seen significant growth in other types of patient support roles, hiring patient care assistants and clinical externs to provide support to the nursing staff.

Another important statistic that is moving in the right direction is how often nurses are reassigned from their ‘home’ unit to fill shifts elsewhere in the hospital, when other units are short-staffed. That number climbed during the pandemic, reaching an organizational record of 90,000 reassignment hours in Aug. 2022. Since then, reassignments have dropped dramatically, to just 2,600 hours total this past Dec. which is even lower than pre-pandemic reassignment rates. 

In addition to recruitment efforts, the hospital is also focusing on retention of current staff. This includes several KHSC funded continuing education opportunities that enhance knowledge, skills, and ensure safe patient care delivery. The hospital is also focusing on other initiatives that support staff wellness and work-life balance.

“We recognize that we still have more work ahead of us, but I am confident that we’ll be able to do that together,” says Hann. “We’ve made great progress in the last year, and we are committed to continue this work to demonstrate that KHSC is a provincial leader and that our patients are continually receiving the highest quality of care.”