Ontario short 22,000 nurses says ONA

Members of the Ontario Nurses Association picket outside the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit on March 8, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Ontario may need to hire tens of thousands of nurses to address staffing shortages.

The President of the Ontario Nurses Association said the province now needs 22,000 new nurses to make up for the thousands leaving the profession.

Cathryn Hoy said funding freezes during the last Liberal government forced the layoff of 1,600 nurses, and the pandemic is the final straw for thousands more.

She called it a catastrophe.

“Nurses began this pandemic at a disadvantage,” said Hoy. “Years of cuts and funding freezes meant they were already swamped on every shift. Instead of fixing that, [Premier] Doug Ford brought in his wage-suppression law, Bill 124, which drove thousands of our members to walk away.”

She is calling on the Ford government to repeal Bill 124. It limits wage increases to just one per cent for all public service workers. Nurses have called for its repeal since it received Royal Assent in November.

The pandemic only worsened the crisis.

“Not having paid sick days or mental health supports drove out even more. Not having consistent access to N95 masks is causing more of them to get sick,” said Hoy.

She and Ontario New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said they have a plan to fix the shortage. It for better working conditions, making more nursing positions full-time, creating new jobs for late-career and recently-retired nurses, free in-person mental health support, full access to personal protective equipment, and ten permanent sick days.

So far, the Ford government has resisted repeated calls to increase paid sick time off.

“Nurses are run off their feet, working double shifts day after day, and caring for too many patients at once, all the time,” added Horwath. “They’re wiped out, and they can’t keep going like this.”

Earlier this month, the President of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, Morgan Hoffarth wrote Premier Doug Ford a letter calling on him to increase enrollment in nursing schools by ten per cent in each of the next eight years, expedite the process for internationally-trained nurses waiting for certification, and fund a Return to Nursing Now program to attract nurses back to the profession.