For nurses weathering the crisis in the health system, the agenda put forth by Premier Ford’s government during Tuesday’s throne speech and budget does little to alleviate the urgent issues threatening the health of Ontarians says the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO).
Exhausted from a two and a half year-long pandemic, battle-weary RNs have continued caring for patients despite a severe nursing shortage hitting hospitals and affecting quality of care across the province. In recent weeks, more than 25 hospitals were forced to limit hours or temporarily close emergency room (ER) services, critical care services and in some cases, intensive care units (ICU) were shut down because of a shortage of RNs.
RNAO is pleased the government heeded its call to speed up processing of applications for more than 26,000 internationally educated nurses (IEN) – 14,000 that are RNs. On Aug. 4, Health Minister Sylvia Jones sent a directive asking the College of Nurses of Ontario for a detailed plan within two weeks on how it will expedite IEN applications. “Getting these nurses registered to practise in Ontario is an important part of an overall health human resource strategy. They want to work in our province and we need them working to ease the deep crisis we are experiencing,” says RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway.
Holloway adds that “dealing with the IEN backlog is a very important step the government must take, immediately. The other is repealing Bill 124.” The wage restraint legislation caps salary increases at one per cent and is to blame for an exodus of nurses from hospitals during the pandemic. “Hospitals and long-term care nurses continue to leave because of Bill 124. Their income has been eroded by at least eight per cent due to high inflation, and they feel disrespected,” says Holloway. Adding that “while the throne speech pointed out that Ontario has not seen an inflation rate this high in four decades, no commitment was made to repeal Bill 124. This bill will continue to place Ontario and Ontarians at a competitive disadvantage.”
Holloway says “the premier correctly identifies that the shortage of nurses is a global issue. However, Bill 124 only exists in Ontario and we cannot afford to lose more RNs, who are being lured away to private agencies or jurisdictions outside of Ontario who offer better pay. Bill 124 is a major retention barrier,” insists Holloway.
RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun says Ontario has the capacity – and it must – build career paths for nurses that will result in retaining them here. The province offers two programs for nurses: tuition reimbursement and the Nursing Graduate Guarantee. These, alongside the growing understanding by the media and the public of the critical role of RNs and nurse practitioners (NP), has resulted in an astonishing 35 per cent increase in applicants for the BScN program that produces RNs, and 70 per cent for the NP program. What we desperately need now is funding for additional seats to increase enrolment says Grinspun. The government has committed to RN enrolment increases for 2021-22 and 2022-23. “We are urging the government to fund 100 additional NP seats for January. More NPs will result in faster access to quality care in all sectors – from primary care, to hospital care, to long-term care,” says Grinspun.
RNAO is also calling for reinstatement of the Late Career Nurse Initiative and a plan that would bring back retired RNs and NPs to serve as mentors to new Ontario graduates and IENs. “This is how we build careers for nurses in Ontario that will result in reduced workloads and allow nurses to deliver top care to Ontarians,” says Grinspun, adding RNAO is ready to work with government and opposition parties to get it done.
“The alternative is grim.” says Grinspun. “When hospitals don’t have enough RNs to deliver care in their ERs and ICUs, people die. Patients in these settings are medically unstable and they need the expertise of RNs around the clock. RNAO will continue to work hard to ensure Premier Ford and Minister Jones understand this,” Grinspun adds.
The government’s pledge to raise rates for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) by five per cent received a lukewarm reception from RNAO. “We urged the government to double the rates. The 400,000 Ontarians dependent on this assistance are living in utter poverty and this increase will do little to change their lives, even when tying ODSP rates to inflation, as promised by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy,” says Grinspun. RNAO called for a substantial boost to help people like Scott Ferguson. The son of a retired RN (non-practising) and former RNAO board member, Ferguson has generously shared his lived experience of trying to make ends on $1,167 per month. He relies on his mother to help pay for groceries and utilities. “Mr. Ferguson lives far below the poverty line and will continue to do so with this woefully inadequate increase. How can a province as rich as Ontario treat people with disabilities this way,” argues Grinspun.
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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