Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones is sworn in at Queen’s Park in Toronto on June 24, 2022.

In a bid to ease the staffing crisis hitting hospitals, Health Minister Sylvia Jones is directing the regulatory bodies for nurses and doctors to “make every effort … as expeditiously as possible” to accredit those trained in other countries.

The directives sent Thursday say internationally trained doctors and nurses “represent a significant potential source of additional health human resources that will help alleviate pressures in the near term.”

More than 20 emergency rooms in smaller hospitals across the province were closed over the long weekend as staff shortages have grown, fuelled by health-care workers calling in sick with COVID-19, taking much-needed summer holidays or quitting after becoming burned out from heavy work loads in a pandemic that began more than two years ago.

Toronto General Hospital this week issued a “critical care bed alert,” warning its intensive care units were “at capacity,” and Lakeridge Health has temporarily closed the ICU at its Bowmanville hospital and moved patients to campuses in Ajax-Pickering and Oshawa.

In the meantime, Lakeridge is piloting a “recruitment initiative” to hire nurses and respiratory therapists for the ER and ICUs at its hospitals.

“If an employee’s referred candidate is hired, the employee will receive $1,000 upon completion of the new hire’s probationary period and an additional $1,000 upon the new hire’s one-year anniversary with Lakeridge Health,” spokesperson Julie Dowdie told the Star.

Jones sent her two-page directive letters to the College of Nurses of Ontario and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario a day after Premier Doug Ford signalled they were being prepared.

She also requested reports from both regulatory colleges within two weeks detailing efforts on “how expeditiously applicants will be registered” to handle patients in Ontario.

It’s not clear how much faster doctors and nurses trained abroad can be checked out and brought on stream as experts warn the troubling situation in hospitals could grow worse with expected waves of COVID and the flu in the fall and winter.

The two colleges could not immediately be reached for comment on the letters from Jones.

The nurses college said earlier this summer that as of June 21, it had accredited 3,969 internationally trained nurses this year, up 132 per cent from the same period last year when the pandemic was raging.

Of those nurses accredited, 762 have been hired by hospitals after completing the “supervised practice experience program” launched by the province and college in January to speed up accreditations. Another 429 have been hired by nursing homes, the government said.

But with 140 public hospitals in Ontario and more than 600 nursing homes, it will take more nurses and doctors to make a dent in the staffing shortfall.

“Do we need more people? One hundred per cent. We need more people,” Ford said Wednesday.

Liberal MPP and emergency room physician Dr. Adil Shamji (Don Valley East) said the Progressive Conservative government’s response to the hospital crisis has been “profoundly disappointing.”

Ford and Jones only spoke publicly about it earlier this week despite growing concerns as more and more hospitals reported problems.

“They made it clear that they have no plan to relieve pressure on hospitals … no plan to address staffing shortages and no plan to retain health-care workers who are leaving the profession at an alarming rate,” Shamji said in a statement.

“The solutions are not easy, and this is not something that can be fixed overnight,” he added. “If the government continues to sit back … we will only see more closures, more staff shortages and more patients suffering needlessly.”

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By Jon Doe