The federal health minister appointed a new chief nursing officer Tuesday as the government works to overcome a critical nurse shortage that has left many hospitals across the country struggling to maintain care.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced that Leigh Chapman, a Toronto-based registered nurse with a PhD in nursing, will fill the newly reinstated role.
“There are already a number of jurisdictions in Canada reporting nursing shortages, which is having an impact on the functioning of emergency rooms and other critical health services that Canadians need and deserve,” Duclos said at a media briefing at the University of Ottawa.
Duclos said Chapman would advise the federal and provincial government’s strategy to grow the health workforce and other health policies.
The appointment could not come at a better time, Canadian Nurses Association president Sylvain Brousseau said at the news conference, as nursing shortages threaten the sustainability of Canada’s health systems.
“Nurses have shouldered the enormous burden of the pandemic,” he said.
The federal government announced in February it would reinstate the role, in recognition of the central role nurses played in keeping health care afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said the appointment is a long time coming, but she would have liked to have seen the announcement coupled with more concrete action to combat the situation.
“That was a missed opportunity,” Silas said in an interview.
Nurses unions have called for the chief nursing officer position to be reinstated since the outset of the pandemic, she said, and have offered concrete solutions to address the shortage for over a year.
“What Dr. Chapman will be able to do is to be in the minister’s office as the voice of nurses,” she said.
Duclos said he would meet with his provincial and territorial counterparts Tuesday to continue to develop a strategy to track and grow the health workforce, including nurses.
“I’m going to have, at the federal level, better support to engage the voice and hear the voice of nurses when it comes to developing the pan-Canadian health human resources agenda that we have been developing over the last few weeks and months,” Duclos said.
Duclos said Chapman would play a “crucial” role in helping to stabilize the health workforce and ensuring nurses’ perspectives are included in health policy work.
“I really hope to work very closely with the provinces and territories as well as national associations to really amplify the voice of nurses,” Chapman said at the news conference.
Chapman has been a nurse for almost two decades, with a background in intensive and emergency care, as well as community care.
Most recently she served as the director of clinical services with Inner City Health Associates of Toronto.
She also earned a PhD in 2019 from the University of Toronto faculty of nursing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2022.
By Laura Osman in Ottawa