Ontario hospital workers unions demand action to address staffing shortages as emergency rooms are forced to close

Two unions representing 70,000 hospital workers in Ontario say a “hands-on approach” is now needed to address the ongoing hospital staffing crisis, which is causing emergency rooms to close across the province.

Today, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare and the Canadian Union of Public Employees/Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (CUPE/OCHU) held a joint press conference announcing that they will be sending open letters to the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA). ) and Premier Doug Ford demanded “full transparency and staff support to fix Ontario’s worsening health human resources crisis.”

The letter to OHA outlines five action items they want to see taken, including launching a website to reveal real-time staffing shortages at each hospital, weekly public press conferences on the status of the administration’s plans of the hospital to provide uninterrupted care and keep emergency rooms open, meeting with the new health minister to discuss retention and recruitment efforts on a quarterly basis, stopping the OHA’s “misleading” marketing campaign, and instead diverting the use of those public funds from advertising to care and, finally, a commitment to fill vacancies by ending the use of agency staff and removing the cap on mental health support for frontline hospital staff emotionally drained.

“It is undeniable that hospital executives’ efforts to discreetly manage the health human resources crisis are failing families,” SEIU Healthcare and CUPE/OCHU wrote, adding that it is “unacceptable that doubts remain about the precariousness of health care.” hospital care”.

“The public and our members serving on the front lines deserve to know more about what is causing doors to close, longer wait times and service disruption within Ontario hospitals. We call on the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) to provide real answers, public commitments and transparency in the crisis.”

In the letter to Ford, the unions request an urgent meeting with him to discuss solutions to address the staffing shortage. They also ask for your commitment to rehire “thousands” of nurses, personal support workers, paramedics, service and other personnel who are no longer working, allowing all staff to work in their full scope of practice, prohibiting the use of nursing agency staff. , raise wages, establish financial incentives, and work with unions and employers to increase the amount of full-time work and reduce workplace violence in health care.

“We are now at the point where the understaffing is chronic and unable to maintain the system that the people of Ontario expect,” they wrote.

This morning, Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, said the “desperate situation” facing hospitals in Ontario can be resolved when those who run them start treating staff as people, rather than a “commodity.”

“We are calling on hospital executives to bring transparency to the crisis and be accountable to the public for the full state of hospital pricing. Patients and staff deserve more information, as well as a commitment to urgent action now,” she said.

“We look forward to your response and engagement on these issues because the public and our hospital staff deserve real responsibility in this ongoing crisis.”

Michael Hurley, Stewart’s counterpart at CUPE/OCHU, said the hospital staff in Ontario is an “exhausted and anxious workforce.”

“It’s ruined by the lack of support that it’s had and it needs to be supported now, so that it reaches the people of Ontario,” he said.

“We are alarmed that today we have not seen any sense of urgency from the provincial government in the face of an unprecedented threat to our communities. … We are very concerned that, without a meaningful plan of action, conditions will deteriorate further in our hospitals.”

Registered nurse practitioner Justine Champagne says frontline workers in hospitals across Ontario are “exhausted” and “burned out” and feel they are being treated poorly.

“PSW, janitors, nurses, all of us, they treat us like cattle and the people who run our hospitals drag us to the ground and push us out of bed. Management must recognize that people do not leave workplaces because of the job they signed up for. They leave due to mismanagement, overwork, underpayment and a feeling of being unappreciated,” he charged.

“Our job is to take care of people, not speak at a news conference about the demoralizing and decaying state of our health care system, the poor treatment of staff, and how ill-equipped we are to provide the exemplary care so many Canadians desperately need.” .

Champagne says the number of patients she sees has increased due to inadequate staffing levels resulting in “chaos,” “physical, mental and emotional stress” and patients needing assistance left in hospital corridors “because they didn’t have doormen to serve them”. help move them.

He also said calling back into work the next day at 7:30 am after completing an eight- or 12-hour shift the day before is becoming more common.

“We are collapsing. The whole system is falling apart,” she said.

Fellow nurse Pam Parks agreed.

Last fall, he joined dozens of RPNS and other hospital workers in Queen’s Park in calling on the provincial government to “act to keep nurses, like myself, PSW, porters, cleaners, clerks, occupational system maintenance and physio and others working in our hospitals.”

“Because so many of us have left health care, we want the PM to take action including better and permanent wages and an end to PC wage caps, less risk of violence against us and better protections, but not listened to us,” Parks said, adding that hospital staff feel “very demoralized, exhausted and undervalued.”

“And now, while we are still dealing with a pandemic in the seventh wave, my hospital and most hospitals in Ontario are in full crisis mode. We are on life support because there just aren’t enough of us to deal with patients coming into hospitals.”

Parks said it’s “sad” that “beyond exhausted” hospital and long-term care workers are unable to timely or even care for patients, or provide them with the level of care they deserve.

“I’m here today to say to the prime minister that I don’t know how much more our frontline staff can take,” he said, adding that some days he goes home crying because he knows “he hasn’t provided the care I know I need.” I should provide for my patients.”

“The workload is tremendous. It is unbearable.

Hurley said an estimated 20,000 more hospital workers are needed in Ontario to address the shortfall in the health care system, which he noted was already “significantly understaffed” before the COVID-19 pandemic and underfunded “for a very long period of time.” length”.

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