‘It’s not getting better’: Unions call for action to ease overburdened health-care system

Leaders from five of Ontario’s largest health care unions are issuing an urgent appeal to the Doug Ford government, citing years of inaction and a lack of investment as factors in the province’s current hospital crisis.

Speaking at Queen’s Park on Thursday, the unions said the current government’s plan is “failing miserably.”

They also said all five unions requested a meeting with Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones in October, but have not received a response.

“Your plan is failing. It’s time to change course and take action with the solutions we all know will restore public hospitals,” Angela Preocanin, a registered nurse and vice president of the Ontario Nurses Association, told reporters.

“Ford has to stop deepening the crisis that he’s created in our public health care system.”

The unions all agreed that an investment in staffing, rather than an investment in private clinics to free up hospital beds, is required to ensure proper staffing levels. This includes scrapping Bill 124, which saw wage increases capped at one per cent for public sector workers, as well as boosting frontline staffing by hiring new workers and providing incentives for employees to stay in the field.

JP Hornick, president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said her members have had enough of chronic staffing shortages that have forced them to work longer hours with little support.

“This government has followed in the footsteps of many previous governments and continued to underfund our public hospitals even through a global pandemic,” Hornick said. “Their misguided decisions have worsened the staffing crisis in our hospitals.”

The Ontario government has said it will add up to 6,000 more health-care workers and free up 2,500 hospital beds as part of its plan to stabilize the health-care system.

The plan, which was released in August, also included an investment in private clinics that can offer OHIP-covered surgeries as well as legislation that would free up acute care beds by transferring seniors to long-term care homes not of their choosing.

Months after the plan was announced, patients and front-line workers are still reporting long wait times and a lack of beds.

A GTA mother told CTV News Toronto last week that their child, who had been diagnosed with pneumonia and RSV, had to wait nearly 40 hours in an emergency department before being admitted to a general ward.

Another Ontario man said he waited about 24 hours for treatment of injuries caused by a car crash, while a patient who spent 45 days in a comma and requires heart surgery saw his proceedure cancelled due to lack of beds.

  • Man’s ‘urgent’ heart surgery cancelled due to bed shortage

The province’s health minister said that reports like these are “deeply disturbing” but reflect the reality of years of neglect prior to when Ford’s government came into power.

“It is obviously deeply disturbing for all of us to hear stories about parents who have to wait with their children as they get admitted, as they are waiting for that bed to open up in the hospitals,” Jones said during question period Wednesday.

“But I also think it’s important for us to understand and appreciate that these are not new issues, and not new problems.”

The unions disagree and say the government’s current policies will not do much to alleviate the already overburdened health-care system.

“If there’s any light at the end of this tunnel, if it is it’s a train,” Hornick said, while referencing a memo sent by the Ministry of Health asking family practitioners to work evenings and weekends.

“This isn’t about asking people to do more. These are the folks who have been doing this for the past two and a half years. To suddenly say ‘oh, and now you’re going to be working 24/7 on top of that’ is ridiculous.”

The majority of hospitals in Ontario, including pediatric hospitals, have been operating at over capacity, in part due to the triple threat of influenza, COVID-19 and RSV this fall.

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