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By Eric Lam

Provincial Minister of Health George Smitherman’s announcement of the “Grow Your Own Nurse Practitioner” initiative on Monday was nearly drowned out by protestors, who were eventually removed by Ryerson security.

Smitherman was announcing funding of up to $110,000 for community nurse practitioner training when members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty entered the room and began shouting “raise the rates.”

“That man was most likely John Clarke,” Smitherman said, referring to one of the men taken from the room. “I’ve had a history with him.”

Clarke and the Coalition Against Poverty have protested the federal government’s recent removal of a special diet supplement, which added $250 monthly income to welfare families. Shifting gears, Smitherman announced that the initiative will “put a dent in the 25 per cent vacancy rate (of practitioners).”

Nurse practitioners, registered nurses who also hold medically-related masters or doctoral degrees, are able to write certain prescriptions and provide a range of primary health-care services. “This initiative is going to allow us to train more of these valuable health-care providers, so they can ply their trade in communities where there is a real need for the kind of comprehensive care they deliver,” Smitherman said in a release Monday.

There are no new funds involved, merely a “reallocation” of $11 million originally available to 100 mostly rural or remote communities to hire a nurse practitioner. Communities can use the money as the salary of a registered nurse while he or she undergoes practitioner education, Smitherman said.

“Some communities are just hard to service overall, or there are environments where hiring a nurse practitioner is difficult. “We’re suggesting instead of hiring one, you can grow your own,” he added. “I would love to move to a local community, it would be a great experience,” said Charity Alagbala, a fourth-year Collaborative Nursing student. “If these funds are there, it’s a great opportunity because we (nursing students) all want to aspire to more than just a (bachelor’s degree).”

But Alagbala still has concerns. “Settling down (in a rural community) is an issue,” he said. “Everybody just wants a stable job. After the training, will there really be a job there for you?” The initiative will “ensure that the newly educated nurse practitioner returns to work for the sponsoring health care agency,” a ministry statement said. Smitherman hopes to see Ryerson students and others in the field soon.

“There’s always more to (work on) and we will continue to work to bring the love to those that need it in Ontario.”

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