With a recent poll showing that Ontario is at-risk of losing more than 60% of its registered practical nurses (RPNs) workforce, RPNs made an emotional appeal to the Doug Ford government to step up investments in wages and improved working conditions to stop thousands more from leaving nursing.

The poll, conducted by Nanos Research of behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and SEIU Healthcare, identifies short staffing, physically and mentally draining workloads and supressed wages as the main causes of the RPN exodus.

638 of the 1029 RPN poll respondents said they considering leaving their profession. If those findings are extrapolated to the 59,000 RPNs the College of Nurses says are registered in Ontario, more than 36,500 - nearly two thirds of the RPN workforce - are considering leaving.

“That’s a staggering number of RPNs potentially poised to go. The provincial government should be moving at record speed to stop that from happening, but to most RPNs, they appear indifferent,” Dave Verch an RPN and first vice-president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

Among Canadian provinces, Ontario, with its high rent and housing costs, is particularly vulnerable to RPN retention and attraction problems, says Verch. Yet unlike B.C. which has brought in a basket of measures from improved nurse-to-patient ratios, higher wages, and $100 million fund to support nurse well-being, the Ontario “government has instead offered RPNs a substantial wage cut and unprecedented understaffing and workload.“

A majority of RPNs say they work short with 53% reporting they work short-staffed almost everyday and 74% saying they work short 3 or 4 times a week. The result of working short in their increasingly expanded role providing patient care in our hospitals is that:

  • 82 % of them experience high stress
  • 64% have trouble sleeping
  • 64% dread going to work
  • 42% suffer depression

“Stress is endemic. Trouble sleeping is pervasive. Dread is everywhere and pride is nowhere. And at 42 per cent, depression among registered practical nurses is almost more common than not. We’re here to tell the Ford government, the Ontario Hospital Association, big nursing home chains, and frankly the public, that healthcare services will get worse and wait times will grow longer if we do not address the working conditions for registered practical nurses and all nurses.” says Jackie Walker, SEIU Healthcare Nursing Division President.

Over the last three years, RPNs are seeing an increasing role in emergency departments (nearly 18% report this) and in acute/intensive or critical care (nearly 13%). Over four in ten also say they cover registered nurses’ shifts on their unit every day or almost every day.

Just days away from Nursing Week (May 8-14), two RPNs Pam Parks and Abiemwense Osawe called on the Ford government for an immediate solution that includes safe staffing, fair wages and to not appeal the court decision deeming their wage cap (Bill 124) unconstitutional.