TORONTO – In a historic moment, Ontario’s five largest health care unions have joined forces, issuing an SOS appeal to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones: your plan is failing – take action and adopt our solutions to stabilize Ontario’s crashing health care system today.
The PC “plan” is failing miserably. The unions want the Premier to discuss with them a meaningful, cohesive, and aggressive staff retention strategy. With staff turnover running at almost 15%, health care has been destabilized under Doug Ford’s watch. The current PC approach is pushing staff out and leaving health care on the brink. Ontario hospitals need to hire 47,000 staff just to deal with turnover and the care needs of an ageing and growing population.
At a news conference Thursday, the unions warned that after several years of neglect, underfunding, and failure to improve staffing levels, the health system is now buckling under the weight of severe staff shortages, overcrowding, lack of surge capacity and the spread of COVID-19, a big and early surge in the flu and other respiratory illnesses. Entire emergency departments have closed, and pediatric ICUs remain above capacity province-wide causing families much distress that could be prevented with a real plan to retain skilled hospital staff. While frustrated, there are still hundreds of thousands of dedicated frontline health care staff who are working through this historic crisis. If the Premier fails to act immediately many more of those on the frontline will be broken by workload, exhaustion and by his government’s lack of response to their plight and increasing patient care needs, which can only be described as a failure of leadership, charge the unions.
In October, the five unions requested an urgent meeting with Premier Ford and Health Minister Jones to try to find a pathway to frontline-focused solutions. But after weeks with no response, the unions say that Doug Ford is openly ignoring frontline workers and patients, and actively pushing the public health care system to collapse, by doing as little as possible to sustain it.
With a province still in the grips of the pandemic and a staffing retention crisis, the joint union leaders called it unfathomable and cruel that Ford refuses to cough up one extra cent to protect patients, including vulnerable children in intensive care. Pointing to last week’s Fall Economic Statement, which saw no new funding for health care, the leaders noted that Ontario currently has a two billion dollar provincial budget surplus, and billions more in unspent contingency funds and additional revenues. Bringing Ontario from dead last in terms of hospital staffing to the Canadian average would cost $2 billion.
The five leaders expressed grave concern that Ford is using the crisis to drive his costly privatization agenda and warned that two-tier health delivery will make staffing shortages, wait times and patient outcomes even worse by competing for scarce staff and pulling them out of the public system, where wages have been cut.
Their message: American-style, for-profit health care is not the solution to Ontario’s health care crisis. Instead, Ford should be listening to frontline workers and their unions and focus on immediate solutions to retain the overworked staff who keep our health care system running.
The unions are calling on the Ford government to action the following solutions:
- Respect workers - scrap Bill 124 and allow collective bargaining to determine wage rates to stabilize staffing levels.
- Boost frontline staffing - provide responsive incentives to the current workforce, and return to work incentives for those who have left.
- Relieve administrative pressure - hire new hospital support staff.
- Invest in people, not profit - restrict the use of private health care staffing agencies.
- No privatization - commit to invest all new funding in public hospitals.
Michael Hurley, President Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE):
“The Minister of Health says closing 80 ERs over the summer and now the huge pressures at pediatric hospitals are not crises but planned events. On the one hand who would plan such system failures? And on the other hand, we know that this government is using the current weakness of the public hospital system against it to privatize the backlog of surgeries and diagnostics. That the Minister has not tabled a plan to deal with the hospital staffing crisis is deeply troubling.
Angela Preocanin, RN, First Vice-President, Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA):
“We want people to remember that they have a voice, they have power, and they can stand with those of us providing care to demand action and a real plan from this government. Letting pediatric and adult patients suffer as the government claims it has no money to restore staffing of our public healthcare system while sitting on billions of unspent healthcare funding dollars is obscene. People must demand government fund the care they need and deserve. We are asking the government to work with us on solutions – for the good of Ontarians now.”
JP Hornick, President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO):
“After years of political choices to underfund, understaff and overburden Ontario’s public health care system, patients, their families and workers across the entire arc of patient care are suffering the fallout, and they’re fed up. ICUs are closing, MRI and CT machines are closing and patient care is suffering – all because of short staffing. Frontline workers have solutions; we also know what our solidarity can accomplish - when workers, their unions, and the communities they are part of come together with a common goal and vision, we win. In the fight to save our public hospitals - and against American-style, for profit delivery - we simply won’t back down.”
Naureen Rizvi, Ontario Regional Director, Unifor:
“Ontarians continue to struggle through this pandemic with long wait times in emergency rooms, crowded hospitals and delays for surgeries and procedures. Meanwhile, health care workers are burned out and staffing shortages continue to plague our system. The health care system is on life support, yet this government is sitting on their hands with no intention to fix it. Instead, Ford’s plan is to let the system crumble and push for more private, for-profit providers to deliver services.”
CUPE/OCHU, ONA, OPSEU/SEFPO, SEIU Healthcare and Unifor are the unions representing more than 295,000 healthcare workers across Ontario.