Open Letter to Ontario’s Premier: Crisis in Nursing Human Resources Repeal Bill 124 as a start
Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Legislative Building, Queen's Park
We are writing to share our grave concern over the state of nursing in Ontario. The shortage of registered nurses (RN) in our province has reached a crisis and it’s spiraling out of control.
RNAO has been warning about an RN shortfall for years. Since December 2020, we have raised alarms that a major crisis is nearing. First, we alerted our own nursing community. Then, we alerted Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA). We have also alerted – repeatedly – Minister of Health Christine Elliott, as well as you, Premier. We have reiterated time and again that this crisis in nursing impairs the effective functioning of our health system and patient safety. We have called for measures that support building nursing careers in Ontario.
Our province has had a shortage of RNs for decades. Yet, this is the worst crisis we have ever seen. The enormous stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the disdain of the Ontario government embodied in Bill 124 – these have turned a serious shortage into a mega crisis. Indeed, Bill 124 – capping salary increases at one per cent, far lower than the rate of inflation – symbolizes what is wrong with Ontario’s approach to the nursing profession. It is an important reason why RNs leave for better opportunities elsewhere.
Premier, since January 2020, Ontario’s nurses – RNs, NPs and RPNs – have been on the frontlines of the battle with COVID-19. More than 617,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Ontario. We have already lost almost 10,000 lives and many more thousands are grieving. Throughout the pandemic nurses have fought to serve and protect Ontarians, themselves and their families. They have struggled, understaffed and at times even unsupported, to save patient lives.
Bill 124 – which has decreased nurses’ real pay by about four per cent during the last year – is not a direct result of the pandemic. Premier Ford, you are responsible for it.
Nursing colleagues resent Bill 124. It signals that our government devalues and disrespects us. Frontline nurses, managers and even hospital CEOs agree. RNAO and the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) agree. That is why on Nov. 14 we pleaded with you to #RepealBill124 within 30 days. Only 15 days remain and we have heard nothing from you. What a shame.
We know the OHA agrees. We know several of your ministers support repealing Bill 124. We know the public stands with nurses. What are you waiting for, Premier Ford?
Ontario’s wait times for procedures and surgeries are at an all-time high. Hospitals are cancelling surgeries and many are not scheduled for lack of RNs. People are dying because we don’t have enough RNs to provide safe care. COVID-19 cases continue to increase. A fifth wave of this pandemic – driven by the Omicron variant – is possible. These circumstances require more nurses, especially RNs.
Recruitment is important. And RNAO has brought forward proposals and supported existing programs. Retention is critical. Indeed, the best recruitment tool is retention. It tells newcomers that they are entering a workforce that has inspired others to stay, and that they will have adequate mentorship to succeed. The nursing crisis can be resolved.
Premier, Ontario’s nurses are burnt out by excessive workloads. They are giving up due to the lack of respect represented by Bill 124. RNs in particular are taking their knowledge and skills to other jurisdictions. They seek fair pay, reasonable workloads and governments that value their expertise. Many RNs are taking control over their careers by becoming self-employed. They are charging hospitals up to $120 an hour to work in ICUs. Many are retiring early and some are leaving the profession.
We acknowledge that your government didn’t start the nursing shortfall. Premier Mike Harris did that in the 1990s. Consecutive governments have done little to solve the problem. Your government didn’t create the pandemic – a virus did. Yet, Premier, you did establish Bill 124 and it is the straw that broke the camel’s back. You set up this powerful sign of disrespect and disdain toward our profession.
Nursing is the central pillar of a well-functioning health system. Enduring the hardships of a 22-month pandemic has turned an existing shortage – thanks to Bill 124 – into an RN workforce crisis. Yet you continue to ignore our calls. Is it because we are a female-dominated profession? We wonder, given you exempted firefighters and police. Nobody deserves Bill 124.
Premier, you have an opportunity. Repair the damage and help rebuild the nursing profession. For the sake of Ontarians you must repeal Bill 124. We are calling once again for your immediate action.
Doris Grinspun, RN, MSN, PhD,
LLD(hon), Dr(hc), FAAN, FCAN, O.ONT
Chief Executive Oﬃcer
Morgan Hoffarth, RN, MScN
Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health
Andrea Horwath, leader of the Official Opposition
France Gelinas, NDP health critic, MPP
Steven Del Duca, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party
Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party
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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