That was the message from three unions as they urged Premier Doug Ford to provide better incentives for health-care workers as staffing shortages have forced the temporary closures of more than 20 hospital emergency rooms and at least one intensive care unit this summer.
“They need to see something come out of his office other than ‘you’re heroes,’” Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, told an online news conference Friday.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees and SEIU Healthcare unions proposed several steps the Ford government could take to turn the corner on the crisis, including increased wages amid the surge in inflation, and the repeal of Bill 124 that has limited most public sector wage increases to one per cent annually since 2019.
Also on the list are: financial incentives to discourage retirements and lure back retirees or others who have left during the COVID-19 pandemic , more full-time work and on-site child care.
By paying their nurses better, hospitals could save three or four times what they spend to hire fill-in nurses from staffing agencies to help fill gaps, Stewart added.
About 10,000 health-care workers have left the field in the last couple of years and are desperately needed back in their jobs, said Michael Hurley of CUPE.
“Bill 124 goes to the heart of the demoralization,” he told the news conference. “It is not an expression of their value.”
The recommendations follow a move by Health Minister Sylvia Jones on Thursday to ask the regulatory bodies for nurses and doctors to accelerate the accreditation of foreign-trained RNs, registered practical nurses and MDs.
“We know more work needs to be done and continue to work with all partners, including Ontario Health and the 140 public hospital corporations, the regulatory colleges, and health sector unions, to address any challenges on the ground,” said Stephen Warner, a spokesperson for Jones.
The government has also added $12.4 million in mental health and addictions supports for health-care workers, hired 10,500 health-care workers, helped 14,000 personal support worker students pay for their college training programs, boosted pay for personal support workers, and is giving $5,000 bonuses to nurses who worked through the pandemic.
Nurses would prefer a fair pay raise that reflects their hard work and importance to the health-care system, said Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association and a registered nurse.
“Nurses have been asked to work back-to-back shifts, sometimes for 24 hours straight. Some sleep at the hospital in case they’re needed. Others are called back in with as little as five hours between shifts.”
The nurse bonuses were “an erratic approach to labour relations” because they send a signal to other health-care workers that they are not appreciated, said Hurley.
At Queen’s Park, interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns said the government should go back to the drawing board with its April 28 budget being reintroduced Tuesday to tackle the health-care crisis, and repeated his party’s call for the repeal of Bill 124.
“(It’s) a very clear signal from a provincial government that ‘we will say all kinds of nice things about you, but in the end, we’re not willing to put dollars on the table to make life better for you.’”
With files from Robert Benzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1