November 2023

CNO highlights the Nurses’ Health Program at conference

The Nurses’ Health Program provides support for Ontario nurses with substance abuse and/or mental health disorders that may be impacting their ability to practice safely.

At a recent pre-conference workshop discussing the regulator’s role in mental health and wellness, CNO had the chance to share how it is collaborating with partners in patient safety to support nurses experiencing substance use and/or mental health disorders.   

At the Canadian Network for Agencies of Regulation (CNAR) conference in Vancouver, BC, CNO Director of Professional Conduct, Carolyn Gora, highlighted the Nurses’ Health Program (NHP), from which nurses with substance abuse and/or mental health disorders that may be impacting their practice can seek support.

“We believe there is value in raising professionals’ awareness of the role their health plays in safe practice and of the resources available to them, including seeking assistance from their primary care provider or their Employee Assistance Program if that is available to them. We also encourage nurses who have a mental health or substance use disorder that may be impacting their practice to contact the Nurses’ Health Program,” Gora said at the conference, speaking to other regulators.

Gora shared CNO’s experience and expertise on a panel with Nathalie Cadieux, a professor at the University of Sherbrooke, the principal investigator in a national study for the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association on the psychological health determinants of legal professionals in Canada.

They discussed the importance of understanding the stressors that professionals’ experience in their work, reducing stigma regarding seeking assistance and providing supports for substance abuse and mental health disorders. They also discussed how that can make a difference to ensuring professionals can practice safely. It’s a shared priority by the organizations that jointly established the NHP.

Founded in 2018 and formally launched in 2019, the NHP was established by CNO, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and WeRPN. It operates independently from the regulator and associations and encourages nurses to seek treatment for substance abuse and/or mental health disorders that could affect their ability to practice nursing safely. In establishing the program, CNO and the associations present a unified voice to the nursing community, supporting the essential tenets of the program, reducing stigma regarding mental health and substance use disorders and sharing responsibility for leadership to ensure its success.

Gora outlined some key points of the program, which is designed to reduce stigma and ensure nurses have the support they need to improve their health and practice safely:

  • the NHP is an alternative to CNO’s regulatory process. It is a voluntary, bilingual program that provides a channel for Ontario nurses with substance use and/or mental health disorders to recover and return to safe practice

  • the Program recognizes substance use and mental health disorders as illnesses and takes a non-regulatory approach

  • nurses can self-refer to the Program

  • if information is received by CNO concerning a nurse’s health, CNO gives the nurse the choice to enter the Program and, if they do and remain compliant in the program, the regulatory process is not engaged or required

  • if CNO assesses a risk to the public and the nurse does not wish to participate in NHP, CNO initiates its regulatory process given its duty to address potential risk of harm to patients

“We know substance abuse and/or mental health disorders are important issues, and we want all nurses to get the support they need,” stressed Gora.

You can learn more about the NHP here.

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