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Northern EMS, universities pleased with Ontario’s new health care retention strategy

District of Nipissing EMS Chief Paramedic Stephen Kirk knows all too well of the shortage of paramedics in northern and rural Ontario.

“It’s definitely a struggle. We've got some of the services in northern Ontario that hold vacancies for over a year trying to get those filled,” he said.

So he’s pleased to see the Ontario Government is trying to find ways to fill the shortages in critical healthcare workers with new incentives.

“There's been a drastic expansion in community para-medicine across the province and that's created a shortage on our front line," said Kirk.

Applications are now open for the provincial government’s new grant program for students in nursing, paramedic programs and other health care programs. It’s called the “Learn and Stay Grant” and it’s designed for first-year students looking to save money on books and supplies while attending school in September.

The grant provides full, upfront funding for tuition, books and other cost of supplies for students who enroll in eligible nursing, paramedic or medical laboratory technologist programs. To be eligible, the students have to agree to stay in underserviced communities to work after graduation. The program is designed to encourage students to study and live locally.

“Their educational costs are covered in exchange for staying in that area for two years after graduation,” said Jill Dunlop, Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities.

“The idea being once you lay down roots in your community, that you’re likely to stay.”

The grant will continue to be available to these students as they move into their second year and beyond. Dunlop says it’s designed to bring in-demand health care workers to communities that need them most across the province. Especially in northern, rural and remote areas.

Nipissing University President Kevin Wamsley told CTV News he is also encouraged by this initiative saying the school’s nursing graduates continue to be in high demand in the North Bay region.

“This new grant will not only encourage more students to consider a career in nursing, but also offers students an incentive to stay in our region upon graduation where they will contribute their expertise in contemporary healthcare and leadership skills to our hospitals and healthcare agencies," he said in an emailed statement.

“It’s really going to help with hospitals and long-term care homes,” said Dunlop.

“This shows the government working together. With myself and the Minister of Health.”

Students can apply up to 60 days before the end of the school year, meaning they can still apply for the grant after they start in September.

“Across the province, there are 2,500 spaces open for the Ontario Learn and Stay Grant,” Dunlop said.

“As of this morning (Thursday), over 1,300 of those spaces have already been filled.”

Meanwhile, Kirk said this strategy will only help emergency services in northern Ontario hire new paramedics at a time when there's a need for further recruitment and retention.

The Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs has been pushing for more of these kind of initiatives," he said.

The government has dedicated $61 million for the grant program.

Grant applications for the 2023-24 academic year are now open for students who enroll in the following programs and regions:

  • Nursing programs in northern, eastern and southwestern Ontario
  • Medical laboratory technologist/medical laboratory sciences programs in northern and southwestern Ontario
  • Paramedic programs in northern Ontario

Students can find the application, as well as information about eligible programs and regions, here Top Stories

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