Ontario healthcare workers ‘at their wits’ end over hospital staffing crisis, union says

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Health-care workers across Ontario are “at their wits’ end” as the ongoing hospital staffing “crisis” is taking a toll on the province’s emergency rooms, the president of the Ontario Council of Labor Unions said Tuesday CUPE hospitals.

Michael Hurley was among hundreds of workers and union leaders who demonstrated outside the Sheraton Centre, where several unions representing health-care workers were engaged in collective bargaining with the province to demand higher wages and better working conditions .

He said there were about 13,150 people on stretchers in hospital corridors, 107,000 people waiting for surgery and tens of thousands waiting for diagnostic procedures across the province – but not enough workers to meet demand.

“There is an exodus of staff in the health care sector and in the hospital sector in particular… (and) the quality of patient care is suffering tremendously,” Hurley told CBC Toronto.

“We lose more than 10 percent of nurses and other staff each year and we don’t replace them. So retaining staff is critical.”

Hurley said unions also “need agreement on workload issues.”

“We have the fewest staff working with the highest number of patients and the fewest beds of any province, and as a result the workload is unbearable.”

Michael Hurley
Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, says health-care workers are “running out of steam.” (CBC)

He said the large turnout at the protest clearly shows that people are suffering and need the government to act urgently.

“Why would people take a bus from Oshawa or Sudbury for five or six hours to come here today to try to draw attention to the understaffing and crisis in hospitals? They would do it because they are at their wits end and they need the government to intervene,” he said.

“I mean, last year, government funding for public hospitals increased by 0.5 percent while their costs increased by 5.6 percent. So they cut hospital budgets by more than 5 percent. hundred by the time we close emergency services and people couldn’t get services.

In an email to CBC Toronto after this article was published, a government spokesperson disputed that funding figure, saying Ontario had increased funding for the hospital sector by 4 per cent in 2023-23.

Prime Minister cites record investments

Speaking today at Toronto Western Hospital, where he announced a $794 million investment to a new 15-story towerOntario Premier Doug Ford said his government has made record investments in the province’s hospital infrastructure and staff.

“We’re investing almost $50 billion — my friends, this has never happened in the entire country, let alone the province — that’s $50 billion for 15 new hospitals or hospital expansions.” declared the Prime Minister. “Here in Toronto, this includes $12 million for the Hillcrest Reactivation Center project and $42 million for phase two of the stem cell transplant expansion project at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Doug Ford
Premier Doug Ford says his government is increasing the number of front-line health professionals. (CBC)

According to Ford, his government is also expanding front-line health care workers.

“Since 2018, we have added over 80,000 registered nurses here in Ontario,” he said.

“In fact, in 2023, another record has been broken, with more than 17,500 nurses registered to work and another 30,000 nursing students at our colleges and universities ready to come and support communities across the province.

“We have also welcomed well over 10,000 new doctors since 2018, and with those doctors, we are building new medical universities and adding more seats across the province,” added Ford.

Ford said Ontario now has the shortest surgical wait times in all of Canada and currently leads the country with 90 per cent of people connected to a regular health care provider.

“So many patients and very few staff”

Pam Parks, a licensed practical nurse since 1986, came from Oshawa to join the rally.

Health care workers protest in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, February 6, 2024.
Hundreds of health care workers and union leaders demonstrated outside the Sheraton Center in Toronto on Tuesday, February 6, 2024. (CBC)

Despite the investments, she says a promise from Ford to end hallway medicine was not preserved.

“Any day … people show up for their shift (and) they get moved from one pillar to another because they don’t have enough staff,” said Parks, who is also President of CUPE Local 3364.

“It affects work because you’re not providing the care you would like to provide to your patients. You’re saving money, there are so many patients and very few staff.”

Parks said that over the past two years, people who were nearing retirement but weren’t yet ready to leave have left “because the working conditions are so bad.”

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles also joined the protest.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles also joined the protest. (CBC)

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she joined the protest “to stand with hospital workers” who are “on the front lines… facing cuts and underfunding of health care in our province.

“We have emergency rooms closing, hospitals threatening to close across the province. We need to do something urgently,” she said.

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