Ontario’s five largest health care unions have joined forces, issuing an SOS appeal to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones: your plan is failing – take action and adopt our solutions to stabilize Ontario’s crashing health care system today.
The PC “plan” is failing miserably. The unions want the Premier to discuss with them a meaningful, cohesive, and aggressive staff retention strategy. With staff turnover running at almost 15 per cent, health care has been destabilized under Doug Ford’s watch. The current PC approach is pushing staff out and leaving health care on the brink. Ontario hospitals need to hire 47,000 staff just to deal with turnover and the care needs of an ageing and growing population.
At a news conference Thursday, the unions warned that after several years of neglect, underfunding, and failure to improve staffing levels, the health system is now buckling under the weight of severe staff shortages, overcrowding, lack of surge capacity and the spread of COVID-19, a big and early surge in the flu and other respiratory illnesses.
Entire emergency departments have closed, and pediatric ICUs remain above capacity province-wide causing families much distress that could be prevented with a real plan to retain skilled hospital staff. While frustrated, there are still hundreds of thousands of dedicated frontline health care staff who are working through this historic crisis. If the Premier fails to act immediately many more of those on the frontline will be broken by workload, exhaustion and by his government’s lack of response to their plight and increasing patient care needs, which can only be described as a failure of leadership, charge the unions.
In October, the five unions requested an urgent meeting with Premier Ford and Health Minister Jones to try to find a pathway to frontline-focused solutions. But after weeks with no response, the unions say that Doug Ford is openly ignoring frontline workers and patients, and actively pushing the public health care system to collapse, by doing as little as possible to sustain it.
With a province still in the grips of the pandemic and a staffing retention crisis, the joint union leaders called it unfathomable and cruel that Ford refuses to cough up one extra cent to protect patients, including vulnerable children in intensive care. Pointing to last week’s Fall Economic Statement, which saw no new funding for health care, the leaders noted that Ontario currently has a two-billion-dollar budget surplus, and billions more in unspent contingency funds and additional revenues. Bringing Ontario from dead last in terms of hospital staffing to the Canadian average would cost $2 billion.
The five leaders expressed grave concern that Ford is using the crisis to drive his costly privatization agenda and warned that two-tier health delivery will make staffing shortages, wait times and patient outcomes even worse by competing for scarce staff and pulling them out of the public system, where wages have been cut.
Their message: American-style, for-profit health care is not the solution to Ontario’s health care crisis. Instead, Ford should be listening to frontline workers and their unions and focus on immediate solutions to retain the overworked staff who keep our health care system running.
The unions are calling on the Ford government to action the following solutions:
- Respect workers - scrap Bill 124 and allow collective bargaining to determine wage rates to stabilize staffing levels.
- Boost frontline staffing - provide responsive incentives to the current workforce and return to work incentives for those who have left.
- Relieve administrative pressure - hire new hospital support staff.
- Invest in people, not profit - restrict the use of private health care staffing agencies.
- No privatization - commit to invest all new funding in public hospitals.