Ontario health minister's denial of nurses' 'mass exodus' feels 'painful' and 'dismissive' for some
Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones speaks with media at Queen’s Park in Toronto, on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Published Wednesday, November 30, 2022 7:55PM EST
Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the province has “not seen a mass exodus of nurses” leaving the profession – a remark some nurses say is “dismissive” and “painful” to hear.
“In fact, we have not seen a mass exodus of nurses leaving the system,” Jones said while speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
“What we have are nurses and health-care practitioners who have a lot of options to choose when they want to practice nursing in the province of Ontario.”
A day earlier, a court deemed Bill 124, which capped public sector workers’ wages, including nurses, unconstitutional. Soon after, the Ontario government released a statement expressing their intention to appeal the decision.
Ever since the Ford government put forward Bill 124 in 2019 to help eliminate Ontario’s deficit, nursing unions have argued that limiting workers’ wages to a maximum of one per cent for three years has contributed to nurses leaving the industry in droves.
“It was heartbreaking,” Marida Etherington told CTV News Toronto, nodding to her own departure from the sector. For nearly 30 years, she worked as a nurse at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto.
Just a couple weeks after pandemic lockdowns were enforced, she said she saw signals of how the health-care sector was being handled and decided she needed to leave and start her own business as a RN psychotherapist.
“I had planned on staying at St Joe’s until I retired, that was my plan, at least 12 years,” she said.
But instead, she began seeing nurses as clients. “This past year, I’ve had emails from at least 25 nurses who want to change the kind of work that they are doing. I’d say we’re in the hundreds of nurses who are looking for options,” Etherington said.
“If we haven’t had a total collapse, it’s because of the dedication of the people that are still here,” she added.
Birgit Umaigba, a RN in the Greater Toronto Area, said she’s witnessed her colleagues leaving the profession firsthand, some taking administrative roles, others heading south of the border where nurses are paid higher wages.
“Just a few weeks ago, I was on a unit with my student and there was only two nurses for 27 patients,” she said. “That’s dangerous.”
Umaigba said hearing the minister of health deny that nurses are leaving the sector was “painful” for her.
“I don't understand who she is talking to and why she is being so dismissive of our reality,” she said. “Has the minister visited an ER recently or ever?”