Ontario Health-Care Workers 'at Their Wits End' Over Hospital Staffing Crisis: Union | CBC News


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

Hundreds held demonstration in Toronto calling on the province to act

Desmond Brown · CBC News

· Posted: Feb 06, 2024 7:41 PM EST | Last Updated: February 7

Pam Parks has been a registered practical nurse since 1986. (CBC)Health-care workers across Ontario “are at their wits end” due to the ongoing hospital staffing “crisis” taking a toll on the province’s emergency rooms, the president of Ontario Council of Hospital Unions of CUPE said Tuesday.

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

He said there are approximately 13,150 people on stretchers in hospital hallways, 107,000 people waiting for surgeries, and tens of thousands waiting for diagnostic procedures provincewide — but not enough workers to meet the demand.

“There is an exodus of staff in the health-care sector and in the hospital sector particularly … [and] the quality of patient care is suffering tremendously,” Hurley told CBC Toronto.

“We lose over 10 per cent of nurses and other staff every year and we’re not replacing them. So, retaining staff is key.”

Hurley said the unions “also need a deal with the workload issues.”

“We have the fewest staff working with the most patients and the fewest number of beds of any province, and as a result, the workloads are undoable.”

Michael Hurley, president of Ontario Council of Hospital Unions of CUPE, says health-care workers are at their ‘wits end.’ (CBC)He said the large turnout at the demonstration 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 the crisis in the hospitals? They would do that because they’re at their wits end and they need the government to step up,” he said. 

“I mean, last year the government funding for public hospitals went up by 0.5 per cent when their costs went up like 5.6 per cent. So they cut the budgets in the hospitals by over five per cent at a time when we’re shutting emergency wards and people couldn’t get services. 

In an email sent to CBC Toronto after the publication of this story, a government spokesperson contested that funding number, saying Ontario increased funding to the hospital sector in 2023/23 by four per cent.

Premier cites record investmentsSpeaking at Toronto Western Hospital today, where he announced a $794 million investment for a new 15-storey tower, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government has made record investments in hospital infrastructure and staffing across the province.

“We’re investing almost $50 billion — folks, this has never happened in the entire country, not to mention the province — it’s $50 billion for 15 new hospitals or expansions of hospitals,” the premier said. “Here in Toronto, that includes $12 million for the Hillcrest Reactivation Centre project and $42 million for phase two of the stem cell transplant expansion project at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Premier Doug Ford says his government is expanding the front line health-care workforce. (CBC)According to Ford, his government is also expanding the front-line health-care workforce.

“Since 2018, we’ve added more than 80,000 nurses that have registered here in Ontario,” he said.

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

“We’ve also added well over 10,000 new doctors since 2018, and with those doctors we’re building new medical universities and adding more seats there as well across the province,” Ford added.

Ford said Ontario now has a 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 only so little staff’Pam Parks, who’s been a registered practical nurse since 1986, travelled from Oshawa to join the rally.

Hundreds of health-care workers and union leaders held a demonstration outside the Sheraton Centre in Toronto on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. (CBC)Despite the investments, she said a promise by Ford to end hallway medicine has not been kept.

“On any given day … people will show up for their shift [and] they’re getting moved from pillar to post because they don’t have enough staffing,” said Parks, who is also president of CUPE Local 3364.

“It affects the job because you don’t give the care that you would like to provide to your patients. You’re cutting corners, there’s so many patients and only so little staff.”

Parks said over the last two years, people who are approaching retirement but were not ready to go yet have been leaving “because the working conditions are so poor.”

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles also joined the demonstration. (CBC)Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles, said she joined the demonstration “to stand with hospital workers” who are “on the front lines … dealing most directly with the cuts and the underfunding of health care in our province.” 

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

CorrectionsAn earlier version of this story misidentified Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles.

Feb 06, 2024 8:26 PM ET

With files from Greg Ross

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