‘Crisis in nursing is real:’ Nurses call for Ontario to strengthen the profession
Published Thursday, March 2, 2023 11:11AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 2, 2023 1:57PM EST
Ontario’s nurses are meeting with MPP's and holding a rally today to make it clear they want a better deal in order to keep their profession strong and are warning that failing to do so could have repercussions for the health of the population.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) is meeting with MPP's at Queen’s Park to discuss their priorities today.
At a new conference Thursday morning, RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway said the health of the nursing profession is tied to the health of the population and the profession needs to be treated with “respect.”
“Given the essential role nurses play throughout our health-care system, nurses must experience respect for their roles and for the profession itself,” Holloway said. “Respect for our levels of education, our skill sets and the various roles and specialities in which we work across sectors of our health-care system.”
RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun said compensation needs to be improved and equalized for nurses across all roles and made competitive with that offered in the U.S.
“We entered the pandemic with a shortfall of 22,000 RNs compared to the rest of Canada,” Grinspun said. “The shortfall not only has stayed like that but has grown and we now need 24,000 RNs to bring our standard line with the rest of Canada.”
The shortage of nurses in Ontario has been cited as a factor in long wait times for patients at hospitals in the province and nurses have been fighting for several years to improve wages in order to retain and bolster the workforce.
“The crisis in nursing is real, it’s tragic and we all pay dearly for it with our health,” Grinspun said.
Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones, told CP24 in an email that the PC government has an”all hands-on-deck approach to transform our healthcare system and bolster our workforce” in order to provide “further connected, convenient care for all Ontarians.”
“Since our government took office in 2018, over 60,000 new nurses and nearly 8,000 new doctors have registered to work in Ontario, but we know more needs to be done,” Jensen said, pointing to the government’s plan to improve health care released just weeks ago.
“We have launched the largest medical school expansion in Ontario in over a decade, while also breaking down barriers for internationally educated health care workers, removing financial barriers for nurses wanting to upskill and allowing health care workers registered in other provinces and territories to immediately start working in Ontario.”
She pointed out that the government’s plan includes new clinics led by nurse practitioners and the addition of 150 more spots in schools for nurse practitioners, starting in the 2023-2024 school year.
But nurses say it’s difficult to retain people in the profession without offering competitive compensation.
The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), which is currently in contract negotiations the Ontario Hospital Association, held a march and rally at Queen’s Park Thursday to make its voice heard.
The group met outside the Sheraton Centre, where mediation was taking place between the two sides, and marched up hospital row to Queen’s Park at 1 p.m.
“The Ontario Hospital Association takes its marching orders and its money from the Ontario government and the last time we negotiated a collective agreement, fully negotiated a collective agreement, was in 2011,” Interim ONA President Bernie Robinson told CP24 in an interview Thursday morning. “That is 12 years ago. And it's absolutely despicable that we are sitting here 12 years later and are facing arbitration as of tomorrow.”
She said wages are the main sticking point in the negotiations.
“We really need to see an improvement in wages to keep the nurses that are currently in the profession, to bring nurses back to the profession who have been fed up and left and went to private agencies, and to bring nurses into the profession,” Robinson said.
In a statement to CP24.com, the OHA said it is working to reach a deal that will recognize “the enormous value” of nurses.
“The OHA is working very hard to reach a freely negotiated agreement with ONA, one that recognizes the enormous value of registered nurses and is aligned with a broader health human resource (HHR) strategy to ensure access to services and high-quality care for all Ontarians. We believe the right place for negotiation is at the table and will focus our efforts there.”
Robinson said working conditions for nurses have been made “deplorable” and pointed to a gruelling workload and a government law, Bill 124, which capped wage increases to one per cent for three years.
That law was struck down by an Ontario court last year, but the province has sought leave to appeal the decision.
“Our health-care system is crumbling, and it's going to continue to crumble and fail,” Robinson said. “And that has been set up by the Ford government by restricting our public sector wages, by capping us at one per cent over three years, in the worst pandemic in history, and by devaluing nurses.”
She said the wage offers in negotiations so far have been “mere cents instead of dollars, and it's not going to cut it.”
The RNAO has outlined its recommendations for bolstering the profession in a new 50-page report, Nursing Career Pathways, released today.
The report’s 24 recommendations include competitive compensation, safe workloads and healthy work environments, workplace supports, an expanded scope of practice, fast-track registration of internationally educated nurses a ‘return to nursing’ program to attract 33,000 non-practising nurses in Ontario, and end to systemic racism and discrimination.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Health Minister Sylvia Jones’ office.