Health Care Unions Demand Immediate Implementation of Solutions to Health Care Crisis
On November 24 Ontario's five largest health care unions held a joint press conference in which they appealed again to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones to take immediate action to address the situation of staff shortages, burnt out nurses and other health care workers and closures of Emergency Rooms and other services across the province.
The unions are the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU-CUPE), the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) -Healthcare, and Unifor.
The immediate actions the unions are calling for to solve the health care crisis are:
- Respect workers -- scrap Bill 124 and allow collective bargaining to determine wage rates to stabilize staffing levels.
- Boost frontline staffing -- provide responsive incentives to the current workforce, and return to work incentives for those who have left.
- Relieve administrative pressure -- hire new hospital support staff.
- Invest in people, not profit -- restrict the use of private health care staffing agencies.
- No privatization -- commit to invest all new funding in public hospitals.
In their joint statement the unions propose that the Premier meet with them to discuss a "meaningful, cohesive, and aggressive staff retention strategy" and point out that under the Premier's watch health care has been destabilized with staff turnover at 15 per cent. Ontario hospitals, they say, need to hire 47,000 staff. At the news conference they warned that "after several years of neglect, underfunding, and failure to improve staffing levels, the health system is now buckling under the weight of severe staff shortages, overcrowding, lack of surge capacity and the spread of COVID-19, a big and early surge in the flu and other respiratory illnesses."
They report that "In October, the five unions requested an urgent meeting with Premier Ford and Health Minister Jones to try to find a pathway to frontline-focused solutions. But after weeks with no response, the unions say that Doug Ford is openly ignoring frontline workers and patients, and actively pushing the public health care system to collapse, by doing as little as possible to sustain it." This at a time when the province has a $2 billion surplus, "and billions more in unspent contingency funds and additional revenues." They estimate that it would cost $2 billion to bring hospital staffing levels in Ontario up to the Canadian average.
The statement honed in on the concern that Ford is using the crisis to drive his privatization agenda and warned that "two-tier health delivery will make staffing shortages, wait times and patient outcomes even worse by competing for scarce staff and pulling them out of the public system, where wages have been cut."
Health care workers, their unions and community organizations throughout the province are making their demands and solutions public in order to mobilize public opinion to put pressure on the Ford government to invest in public health care, treat health care workers with dignity and respect and implement the solutions they have put forward.
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Union Leaders on Ontario Health Care Crisis
Below are excerpts from what was said at the November 24 press conference:
Michael Hurley, President Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE):
"The Minister of Health says closing 80 ERs over the summer and now the huge pressures at pediatric hospitals are not crises but planned events. On the one hand who would plan such system failures? And on the other hand, we know that this government is using the current weakness of the public hospital system against it to privatize the backlog of surgeries and diagnostics. That the Minister has not tabled a plan to deal with the hospital staffing crisis is deeply troubling."
Angela Preocanin, RN, First Vice-President, Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA):
"We want people to remember that they have a voice, they have power, and they can stand with those of us providing care to demand action and a real plan from this government. Letting pediatric and adult patients suffer as the government claims it has no money to restore staffing of our public healthcare system while sitting on billions of unspent healthcare funding dollars is obscene. People must demand government fund the care they need and deserve. We are asking the government to work with us on solutions -- for the good of Ontarians now."
JP Hornick, President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO):
"After years of political choices to underfund and understaff Ontario's public health care system, patients, their families and workers across the entire arc of patient care are suffering the fallout, and they're fed up. ICUs are closing, MRI and CT machines are closing, and patient care is suffering — all because of short staffing. Frontline workers have solutions; we also know what our solidarity can accomplish - when workers, their unions, and the communities they are part of come together with a common goal and vision, we win. In the fight to save our public hospitals - and against American-style, for profit delivery - we won't back down."
Jackie Walker, Nursing Division President, SEIU Healthcare:
"Nobody is satisfied with a PC plan objectively contributing to worsening results across Ontario's health care system. It's not the workers' plan that's failing. What we see is Ford's failing plan. Once again, we're bringing the Premier actionable solutions from the frontline to fix the crisis of care. The provincial government can either choose our new plan informed by health care workers themselves, or he can import a U.S.-style privatization scheme where patients wait longer so private interests can profit more, by denying patients with pre-existing conditions access to universal care, just like at Shouldice Hospital. Ford promised to protect the Greenbelt, now he's paving it. Ford promised OHIP-only access, then forced seniors to use their credit card for a hospital bed. What's next?"
Naureen Rizvi, Ontario Regional Director, Unifor:
"Ontarians continue to struggle through this pandemic with long wait times in emergency rooms, crowded hospitals and delays for surgeries and procedures. Meanwhile, health care workers are burned out and staffing shortages continue to plague our system. The health care system is on life support, yet this government is sitting on their hands with no intention to fix it. Instead, Ford's plan is to let the system crumble and push for more private, for-profit providers to deliver services."
(Photos: OCHU, ONA, SIEU)
This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 60 - December 16, 2022