Current level of patient care in Ontario cannot be maintained unless more hospital and paramedical workers are hired: CUPE

Posted Tuesday, September 27, 2022 at 6:04 pm EDT

Last Updated Tuesday, September 27, 2022 6:15 pm EDT

Roughly 15,000 healthcare workers and 500 paramedics need to be hired this year alone to maintain current levels of patient care and service at hospitals across the GTA, says a union representing frontline healthcare workers.

During a Tuesday afternoon press conference outside the emergency department of Scarborough General Hospital, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) came together to call on the province to address the severe staffing shortage that It affects hospitals in Ontario and puts great pressure on those who work in them.

“Many (hospitals) have temporarily closed their ER and ICU and other services. This is not normal or acceptable,” said Dave Verch, a longtime registered practical nurse (RPN), first vice president of the Ontario Council of Hospitals Unions/CUPE.

He said that across Ontario, 46,000 hospital workers need to be hired immediately to ensure that the level of patient care and service remains the same in the future.

“These figures are based on existing vacancies, turnover rates and to meet aging pressures from population growth,” he said.

Verch said the hospital staff turnover rate in this province is currently nearly 15 percent, which he said represents an “unsustainable loss of experienced healthcare workers” and is more than double pre-pandemic levels. .

He also said assurances from Prime Minister Doug Ford that this issue is being addressed in a timely manner “are simply not true.”

“This attrition weakens our health care system that has had the fewest staff per population of any province for decades,” Verch said.

“Surveys (CUPE) suggest that the hospital workforce, which is exhausted and demoralized and without some significant changes, the exodus of staff will continue to accelerate. We entered this pandemic within that adequate capacity and our hospital system is now struggling because staff are leaving and cannot be replaced.”

Verch said the province must have a comprehensive plan to “staff our hospitals,” one that includes paying workers properly so that the quality of care provided to patients is not compromised.

He is also calling for more mental health supports for hospital workers, as well as a ban on agency nursing, which he said is “two to three times more expensive and often less flexible.”

“Using expensive agency staff while cutting nurses’ salaries is just demoralizing,” Verch said, adding that financial incentives should be put in place to discourage retirements and improve hiring and retention.

Additionally, Verch said post-secondary slots for health care disciplines should be significantly expanded, tuition waived and additional financial incentives provided to study and practice in Ontario.

“Reversing this crisis is possible and the well-being of many Ontarians depends on it. We need to aggressively work together to resolve this crisis,” she said.

Mike Merriman, unit president of CUPE Local 416, which represents Toronto Paramedical Services, said doctors in Toronto and across Ontario are also dealing with a “crisis” situation as, on average, one member of the city ​​staff quit every week.

“Politicians and service administrators will tell you that the situation is bad, but it is not serious, and that they are handling it. Well, if rearranging the loungers on the Titanic is managing, I guess they’re doing it,” she said.

Merriman went on to say that the situation facing paramedics and, in turn, patients is “extremely serious.”

“I have been in this job for 32 years and I have never seen things as bad as they are now. I have never seen patients, calls waiting, queued for hours and hours. In 32 years, I have never seen elderly patients who slip and fall on ice and fracture their hips and lie on that ice for hours in agony. I have never seen that in 32 years.”

Merriman noted that politicians often point the finger at patient discharge delays, but said it’s a long-standing challenge that paramedics have been able to face before.

“We have achieved it, why? Because the services were adequately staffed. They had surge capacity. Over decades of mismanagement and underfunding by municipalities and governments, this system has eroded badly,” he said, noting that the average volume of calls to paramedics has increased by almost five percent annually.

“The paramedics can no longer keep up with the calls. They are burning en masse. They leave,” Merriman said.

“We are averaging a resignation of once a week. They are going to go to other services where the pace may not be so bad.”

Lastly, Merriman said he is proud of his members for “stepping up in the face of such adversity and what they are facing.”

But, he said they need some relief.

Meanwhile, in a statement provided to CTV News, the Health Ministry said Ontarians “would continue to have access to the care they need when they need it.”

“Our (Plan to Stay Open: Health System Stability and Recovery) will support the health system in addressing today’s urgent pressures while preparing for a potential winter surge so our province and economy can remain open,” the report wrote. spokesman Bill Campbell in an email. .

“Once fully implemented, the next phase of the Plan to Stay Open will add up to 6,000 more healthcare workers to Ontario’s healthcare workforce, free up more than 2,500 hospital beds to make care available to those who need it. need and will extend the models. of care that provide better and more appropriate care to avoid unnecessary visits to emergency departments.

The Ministry of Health representative went on to say that the Minister of Health, Syvia Jones, recently wrote to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario asking them to go ahead with their proposal to add a new group of “temporary” doctors to the College Registration Regulations. .

Campbell said the Ministry “wants to know how many aspiring nurses would benefit from these changes” which would “support more agile movement between provinces and territories”.

He also noted that they are also interested in finding more ways to register internationally trained physicians, in particular through the creation of a Practice Readiness Assessment Program where physicians from other countries can receive a “fast-track assessment.” to determine if they are ready to work. as a doctor in Ontario.

In addition, the province said it is investing $42.5 million over the next two years to “increase undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and training in Ontario.”

“These investments will help recruit future healthcare workers and support better care for underserved areas of the province. Increasing the number of doctors, nurses and personal support workers in Ontario is a key element of the government’s Plan to Stay Open,” said Campbell.

“This requires recruiting and retaining nurses and personal support workers, and investing in today’s students who will become tomorrow’s skilled health professionals. The expansion of medical education will result in more physicians serving Ontario and better access and quality of care for working families across the province.”

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