Budget offers a glimmer of hope for challenges facing the nursing profession and Ontarians
The modest investments in nursing announced in Thursday’s budget are welcome, yet much more is needed to overcome the immense crisis and shortage facing Ontario’s nursing profession and the devastating impact on the public – in all sectors across the province.
RNAO has repeatedly raised the alarm that more and more nurses are leaving the profession mid career, as well as retiring early. “We need to do everything we can to retain our colleagues in the profession,” urges RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun. Thursday’s budget offers hope related to retention, mentorship and improvements in nursing programs, but these types of investments need a more substantial and sustained boost.
“The silver lining is the 35 per cent increase in nursing applications for baccalaureate nursing programs,” says Grinspun. “The association will continue to insist on greater investments for seats in BScN and NP programs – more seats and at a faster pace. Another silver lining is the 26,000 internationally educated nurses living in Ontario, all of whom are eager to begin practising.” Immediate action on both fronts is imperative for the health of Ontarians.
At a time when Ontario’s nursing profession is feeling the weight of a prolonged and intense pandemic, RNAO is disappointed Bill 124 remains in force. The wage restraint legislation that limits pay increases for nurses to one per cent is a major barrier to retaining nurses in Ontario.
The government has committed $6.4 billion for the long-term sector (LTC) since 2019, including 30,000 new long-term care beds. The sector shouldered a disproportionate share of tragedy as a result of COVID-19. “Given the 4,335 residents and 13 staff who died from the virus and the long-standing staffing challenges, the 27,000 new positions the government promises fall short of RNAO’s staffing model of one NP for every 120 residents, 20 per cent RNs, 25 per cent RPNs, and no more than 55 per cent PSWs. This model was adopted in the report of Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission led by Justice Frank Marrocco. This staffing formula – alongside evidence-based tools – is central to ensure safe, quality care for each resident,” says Grinspun.
RNAO welcomes $40 billion in capital funding over 10 years for the hospital sector and $3.3 billion for 3,000 acute and post-acute beds and hundreds of new critical care beds. Given the Ontario Hospital Association’s budget request for 10,000 RNs and 3,500 RPNs over the next five years, this funding may support staffing for the new additional beds, yet leaves existing workload challenges unaddressed.
The association was pleased to see investments in home care, a sector that has been ignored for years. The $1 billion in new funding over three years announced in the budget is an essential building block to provide more nursing and personal care for Ontarians who want to remain at home or recover at home after surgery. “This is both cost effective and it gives seniors the help they need to age in place. It also helps to build a more robust community sector as outlined in the association’s Enhancing Community Care for Ontarians report, first released in 2012 and updated in 2014 and 2020,” says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth.
While nurses welcome the promise to increase the minimum wage to $15.50 per hour in October, indexed to inflation in the future, Hoffarth says “workers need a living wage of at least $17 an hour because income is a determinant of health.” RNAO was also dismayed that the government failed to address the urgent needs of people who live on social assistance, who will face another year living in utter poverty.
The budget failed to mention those struggling with substance use and the increasing challenges they experience accessing life-saving health services. On average, eight Ontarians die per day as a result of opioid overdose. RNAO had hoped the budget would include measures to support this vulnerable population. Only 17 of the promised 21 consumption and treatment sites have received funding. “Nurses want to see a commitment for the remaining sites and for those communities where people have identified a need. The government also needs to amend its drug formulary to fund and expand safer drug supply programs. People who struggle with addiction deserve dignified care and support,” says Hoffarth.
As we confront the climate emergency, RNAO says nurses remain gravely concerned that the government’s policies and funding for highways and urban sprawl will worsen the climate crisis and the health of Ontarians.
The government’s decision to secure future supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) by manufacturing them in Ontario is applauded by RNAO. “The reality is the pandemic is far from over and Ontarians need assurances that PPE will always be plentiful so they and health workers can protect themselves,” adds Hoffarth.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public we serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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