Facing another weekend of severe hospital staff shortages, and the potential for more hospital emergency room and other care unit cuts and closures, Ontario’s provincial government must not sit on their hands, but take immediate action, said health care unions today. The Ontario Nurses’ Association, CUPE and SEIU Healthcare outlined urgent measures to ensure Ontarians can access hospital care in their communities.

The three hospital unions have throughout the pandemic consistently raised concerns with government and to the public that Ontario’s hospital system, following years of provincial underfunding and understaffing, does not have the resilience, capacity, nor staff resources to deal with an unprecedented crisis such as the current global pandemic.

“We have 20,000 unfilled hospital positions in Ontario and a workforce that is exhausted, demoralized and looking at the door after toiling through the pandemic, suffering real wage cuts and working in an environment that is often unsafe for them. With more hospitals potentially closing units, ICUs, and emergency departments, that the government still has no comprehensive plan to staff up our hospitals is unacceptable,” said Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. “Turning this staffing crisis around is possible and the well-being of many Ontarians depends on our working together to solve it.”

The three unions have also made many attempts at dialogue with the provincial government to offer solutions, particularly about the critical shortage of health care staff and what to do about it in this emergency. According to Statistics Canada there are more than 45,000 health care sector job vacancies in Ontario. With aging and population growth, an extra 100,000 health care workers will be needed in just a few years to maintain services. There is no plan from the provincial government to invest in the people required to quality care today or in the future.

“We have emergency departments and ICUs closing or at capacity weekend after weekend because there just aren’t enough nurses to stay open. It’s time for this government to end the excuses, listen to nurses and health care professionals and take immediate action. We need to keep nurses on the job and bring those who have left the profession back to work so that all Ontarians truly do have access to public healthcare when they need it,” said Cathryn Hoy, a registered nurse and president of the Ontario Nurses Association. “It is no longer about what needs to be done to address the health care staffing crisis; we have ERs and ICUs closing or cutting capacity now because of a lack of staff. We need our government to show the political will to take the action we know will ease the crisis. Ontarians across our province need and deserve access to public healthcare This government must heed our calls to action with the same urgency that nurses and health care professionals did and are continuing to do.”

Today, the Ontario Nurses’ Association, CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and SEIU Healthcare issued a five-point plan that they want the Premier and Health Minister to implement immediately to begin to turn around the system crisis, staff up our hospitals and stop emergency room closures. The measures proposed include the following:

  1. Support the existing workforce: staff up to reduce workloads; provide mental health supports; invest in making the hospital workplace safer for staff and patients; offer full-time employment; and invest in on-site support such as childcare.
  2. Increase wages to attract and retain staff. Bill 124 prevents that and should be repealed.
  3. Put in place financial incentives: to discourage retirements and enhance hiring and retention. Encourage staff to work additional shifts when safe for them to do so.
  4. Recruit with incentives for the thousands of nurses, paramedical and others who are licensed and not working to help staff up our hospitals.
  5. Significantly expand post-secondary spaces for health disciplines: waive tuition and provide additional financial incentives to study and practice in Ontario.

Before the situation worsens, the unions expect the provincial government to recognize and act now to treat this emergency with the urgency and seriousness with which our health care staff – who are more than 85% female - treat their patients. To solve the staffing crisis and hospital closures, it is imperative that the provincial government put ideological wage restraint policies aside to repair the damage inflicted on a very demoralized workforce, said the unions.

“Premier Ford has a plan for strong mayors and weak health care workers. The real-life consequence of his reluctance to invest in the people on the front line of care is continued hospital closures and health service disruptions for the people of Ontario,” said Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare. “Health spending per person in Ontario is the lowest in Canada and 10 per cent below the average of the other provinces, yet Premier Ford acknowledged just this week that one-in-ten people in the province are not getting the quality care they need or not getting care at all. This moment is significant because 120,000 hospital workers are coming together crying out for a life-raft and what our unions are putting forward are five actionable solutions to keep hospitals open and stabilize the crisis in Ontario’s healthcare system.”

Collectively, the Ontario Nurses Association, CUPE and SEIU Healthcare represent more than 120,000 Ontario hospital registered nurses, registered practical nurses, personal support workers , and tens of thousands more in home, community, and long-term care.