This Nursing Week, SEIU Healthcare and CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) are making an urgent plea of support for registered practical nurses (RPNs). The two unions released polling and survey data showing trauma and turmoil experienced by RPNs on the frontline of our health care system.

Today an RPN working at a hospital in Ottawa spoke openly about her pandemic experiences. Throughout the week, RPNs represented by OCHU/CUPE and SEIU told personal stories of emotional and physical exhaustion, anguish over adequate patient care and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic that are also reflected in the findings of an OCHU/CUPE poll of 700 Ottawa, Kingston, Cornwall hospital RPNs.

Polling conducted in early April 2021 by Oracle Polling found that:

  • 59% are coping poorly (that’s 8% higher than the provincial average)
  • 53% describe their mental health as poor (again, this is 8% higher than the provincial average)
  • 34% are experiencing low morale
  • 86% say workload has increased a lot
  • 64% say incidence of workplace violence is up
  • 75% think that the potential for medical errors has increased
  • 40% were exposed or got COVID-19; 24% of those were not paid for sick days if they had to quarantine or isolate

RPNs are carrying the weight of a pandemic on their shoulders without the financial or emotional support they need. Low staffing levels in our hospitals mean the work is dangerous and causing mental and physical exhaustion. And a reliance on part-time jobs in the hospital sector means RPNs continue to go without adequate paid sick days and without isolation pay should they get COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus.

SEIU HEALTHCARE SURVEY DATA AT A GLANCE:

  • 93% of RPNs report experiencing mental and physical exhaustion
  • 66% of RPNs report seeing a co-worker experiencing violence at work
  • 72% of RPNs believe staffing is insufficient for quality patient care

It is incumbent upon Premier Ford’s government and the Ontario Hospital Association to immediately authorize the resources necessary to provide:

  1. Increased staffing levels with full-time jobs that come with permanent wage increases above the rate of inflation that can only come with an exemption from Bill 124
  2. Guaranteed access to mental health support
  3. Safe working conditions with full PPE, on-site second dose vaccinations, and paid sick days.

SEIU Healthcare and OCHU, the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario, represent approximately 70,000 workers in Ontario’s hospital system, including about 20,000 registered practical nurses (RPNs).

QUOTES:

“Research show us that denying registered practical nurses fair wages and safe staffing levels mean our hospitals are about to experience an exodus of frontline staff. The burnout is real and decision makers must heed the warnings. Nurses cannot continue to take on more work done by fewer staff—staff who are now carrying the emotional and physical weight of a pandemic. Premier Ford’s government made hallway healthcare worse and allowed wait times to grow, all before the pandemic hit us. In the aftermath of the pandemic, we’re asking for a better deal for Ontario’s registered practical nurses.” Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare.

“Our polling paints a stark picture of exhausted nurses who feel unvalued and unsupported. A large number are considering leaving nursing. At every turn, doors have been slammed in their faces. Refused the protective equipment they need to work safely. Not fully vaccinated despite working with COVID-19 patients. Not being paid if they catch COVID-19 at work and must take 10 days off. Told to accept real wage cuts. Nurses have really stepped up for the people of Ontario during this crisis and they deserve so much more from their government than platitudes.” Michael Hurley, President of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.