Ontario’s nursing shortages ‘critical’ as Omicron ramps up: nurses’ association

By Dani-Elle Dubé

The implementation of Bill 124, people refusing vaccination, the anticipated problems that will come with Omicron, and nurses getting sick with the virus themselves, has created a perfect storm for nurses to leave the profession in Ontario.

That’s what Dr. Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), told The Sam Laprade Show on Friday, December 17, as she discussed the “critical” nursing shortage in Ontario hospital rooms as Omicron drives cases up.

“It is very serious when it comes to Omicron,” she said. “The virus is exponentially multiplying every two to two-and-a-half days. Come Christmas Day, come New Years, we’ll see a tremendous increase in cases up to 10,000 or close to a day. That means many of them will get to the ICUs, to the hospitals, and that’s where the crunch happens.”

The shortage, Grinspun said, mostly has to do with registered nurses (RN).

In fact, she added, Ontario has the lowest RN population in Canada. 

“They’re exhausted,” she said. “They don’t feel recognized or valued by the government.”

As Grinspun explained, nurses have been feeling like this since before the pandemic, when the government introduced Bill 124 – a bill that caps public sector wage increases to one per cent a year.

The RNAO described the bill as demoralizing and undermining to the nursing profession during a Toronto rally in November.

Dubbed by the provincial government as the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, it was introduced in the Ontario legislature in June 2019 and in November it received royal assent.

Bill 124 applies to most of the Ontario government as well as provincially funded, public corporations and agencies, except for municipalities and municipal boards, Indigenous communities, police services and for-profit entities (unless exempt by regulation). It’s estimated more than one million people are covered by the law and the three-year periods vary in timing based on different sectors and when collective agreements end.

When it comes specifically to the health care sector, the government touted its 16-week pandemic pay bump in mid-2020 as well as spending nearly $400 million on recruiting new professionals and funding training for registered nurses and registered practical nurses to upgrade their skills.

Groups representing affected workers are in the process of challenging the law through the courts, but as of mid-November a decision wasn’t made.

“The premier has the emergency powers to say that bill is gone. He is being stubborn but the price will not be paid by nurses, it will be paid by Ontarians and that’s why nurses are devastated,” Grinspun said.

“Nurses are furious about that bill, even before Omicron. And now they need to do more and more and more and people continue not to be vaccinated and it’s just become too much.”

It’s all become too toxic for nurses, Grinspun explained, and nurses are just too exhausted.

“He’s asking more from the profession and the profession is saying no more.”

— With files from Nick Westoll

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