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Toronto It is sheer lunacy and bad public health policy for Greater Toronto Area hospitals to proceed with staff cuts, including the lay off of front line nurses when our public health system is fighting an infectious disease like SARS, says Sid Ryan, the Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Today, Ryan called on the health minister to rescind staff lay offs at Lakeridge Health (Oshawa and Whitby sites), and to stop all pending and future staff cuts at hospitals province-wide.

Recently, 45 health care workers, at least 25 of them registered practical nurses (RPNs), were given lay off notices at Lakeridge Health (Whitby), where a cluster of dialysis patients is being investigated for SARS, and at Lakeridge Health (Oshawa) where two men were treated for SARS.

Of those given lay off notices, 14 are nurses at the Whitby hospital where the potential SARS outbreak is now feared. Another 11 are Oshawa emergency department nurses, where the two SARS cases were first treated.

Id like to see the health minister stop talking out both sides of his mouth. He and his government maintain they want more nurses hired, yet they are knowingly watching hospitals give nurses and other health care workers pink slipssomething that will adversely impact our ability to battle any infectious disease crisis.

I say to Tony Clement, you cant have it both ways. You are either committed to ensuring the health and safety of the public and workers by guaranteeing that our hospitals have enough front line staff to fight SARS, or you admit your government has no intention of ever providing adequate funding to public hospitals for staffing and services, says Ryan, whose union represents the laid off nurses.

Hospitals are already operating at bare bones staffing levels. Staff shortages are common despite the fact that RPNs are working six days straight in the week, or are covering 12-hour shifts. To fill in the gaps, many hospitals are resorting to higher-waged agency nurses.

SARS has highlighted all the cracks in our public health system that have resulted from bad Tory government health care policy. Just like Walkerton, I am hopeful that the public review on SARS will conclude that there are not enough front line workers and nurses in our hospitals, and that this government is directly responsible through the chronic under-funding of health care, says Ryan.


For more information please contact:
Sid Ryan, President, CUPE Ontario - (416) 209-0066
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications - (416) 578-8774