From first-hand experience, Ontarians understand we are in a health-care crisis. Multiple pediatric hospitals in Ontario have been coping with a surge in severely ill children and a shortage of nurses. Ontario has the fewest RNs per capita in the country, causing patients to have to wait up to 24 hours for attention in our emergency departments — or seeing emergency departments close due to a lack of nurses.
Pediatric surgeries have been cancelled and nurses have been redeployed from other units to try to provide very specialized care for ill infants and children.
The Ford government has unspent health care funding but is starving our hospitals of needed funds. And while appealing a Superior Court decision that found suppressing nurses’ wages to be unconstitutional, the province is also failing to act on retention initiatives in a bid to advance privatizing health care.
Despite this, nurses are offering solutions and are eager to collaborate with all levels of government. What we want is simple: for patients to finally receive the care they need, and for nurses to practice their profession under safe and sustainable working conditions.
Three actions would begin to fix the nursing shortage crisis: keep experienced nurses in their jobs, bring nurses back to the public sector, and recruit nurses where they are needed most. We need proven programs, backed by firm timelines and real accountability.
Nurses need time to recover after a 16-hour-plus shift in order to reduce high rates of burnout and to ensure safe patient care. One RN told us: “Mentally and physically, I’m exhausted. I give 110 per cent and still leave wishing I could have done more. Something needs to change. Not just for nurses — but especially for our patients.” To stop nurses from quitting, going part-time, or retiring early, nurses’ working conditions must be improved.
Ontario can legislate to reduce workloads by implementing safe nurse-to-patient ratios and make targeted investments in programs to retain experienced nurses. The federal government should also be making direct investments to support return-and-recruit initiatives, including mental health programming.
Many hospitals — pediatric and adult — have had to resort to using private, for-profit agency nurses, who are paid three to four times more than staff nurses and who are not familiar with the hospital policies and procedures. Our solutions will bring nurses and early-retirees back to the public sector and reduce Ontario’s reliance on expensive private agencies and ensure surge needs are met across the country.
Finally, we must expand domestic training programs by scaling up student nurse programs to support them securing employment in attractive full-time jobs and expand access to education to support nurses wanting to advance in their careers.
Nurses in Ontario have real solutions, but our governments must listen. We will not stop fighting for patient care, for our incredible nurses and health care professionals, and for access to quality care for all through our publicly funded and publicly delivered health-care system.
Bernie Robinson is the interim provincial president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. Linda Silas is the president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.