Health care worker with maskWarnings from Ontario’s health care front-lines of staff shortages and inadequate personal protective equipment to deal with airborne infection went unheeded for nearly 20 months by the provincial government. “Now the staffing crisis is so severe at some hospitals that they require staff directly exposed to COVID to work while awaiting test results, to keep ERs and beds open. This is a dangerous practice which puts at risk patients, particularly those with compromised immune systems and other staff,” says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE).

Amid the Omicron surge, Ontario hospitals are implementing the cancellation of surgeries and procedures and program reductions to cope. A staffing crisis is widespread, with hospitals across Ontario unable to find care staff to fill gaps.

“The high-risk practice of utilizing staff who have been directly exposed to COVID positive individuals instead of having them self-isolate at home is based on the flawed theory that personal protective equipment will protect the patients they care for and their co-workers. This is a significant risk to patients and other staff. 860 patients have died already of COVID contracted in hospital and many of these deaths were certainly avoidable.”

“Under the current surge and given understaffing and pandemic burnout, we cannot afford to have more front-line staff go down because we’ve again undermined the risk of infection spread and not applied the precautionary principle. These practices just reinforce the knowledge that the hospitals and government are failing to care for the well-being of patients and health care workers,” Hurley stresses.

“The solution to the staffing crisis is to do our utmost to protect the staff we have,” says Hurley. “It is to make health care work decently paid and to make the jobs full-time. It is to give these some workers time off with their families, which they have not had for two years.”