“Burnt out, tired, defeated, disrespected, not heard.” These are some of the words and terms that Cathryn Hoy used when describing the current emotional state of the people in her profession: nurses. In advance of what looked like another hard weekend at Ontario’s hospitals, we were joined by Coy, the president of the Ontario Nurses Association, on Open Sources Guelph to talking about nursing, as a political issue.
According to Hoy, when you hear that there’s “staffing issues” at you local hospital it means one thing. “Staffing equals registered nurses. Let’s be clear, that’s where the issues are. And there will be an issue with doctors, I’m pretty sure in the fall, but right now, it’s registered nurses.”
Hoy did the math. When you have 15 patients who all require a head to toe assessment, charting, medication, calls for bathroom visits, changing IV bags, talking to family members, and standard things like lunch and pee breaks, your average nurse is trying to cram over 24 hours of work into a 12-hour shift. “And that’s if it’s a perfect day, and nothing else goes wrong. So when people say why they’re burnt out, that’s why,” Hoy said.
Guelph is not immune to staffing issues either even though the issues have yet to lead to any temporary or overnight closures of the emergency room. Instead, staff issues at Guelph General Hospital though have often created long line-ups of ambulances waiting for their turn to admit patients, and Hoy said that she understands the scramble that’s probably going on inside.
“The trauma rooms are already full, all the general bays are already full, people are in the hallways and you only have half the nurses – maybe even less – and now EMS rolls in. That’s why you’re seeing the long lineup because there’s nowhere to put them,” Hoy explained. “EMS has to stay with that patient to ensure they’re safe, and that means the ambulances are not out in your community to take care of the people that have just been in a car accident or having a heart attack, and that increases the risk to the community.”
But nursing is not just a hospital issue. There are nurses out in the community, helping people with mental health and substance abuse issues, or working in a public health capacity. “There are a lot of nurses out there working directly with the community to keep them safe, and the general public doesn’t probably even realize that,” Hoy said. “Healthcare isn’t a privilege for Ontario, it is a service. A service that we all pay for in our tax dollars.”
Hoy says that since the appointment of the new Minister of Health at the end of June she’s only had an introductory conversation with Sylvia Jones, but she has had many good conversations with Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff, and she’s grateful for that even though she always has the same message: “I need action yesterday. I don’t need another phone call. I need action. It cannot wait.”
The action Hoy is looking for is to hold on to the nurses that are already working in healthcare and then recruit some more. To that end, she called again for the Government of Ontario to repeal Bill 124, a law passed pre-pandemic that limits government employees, including healthcare workers, to a one per cent increase in compensation per year. For Hoy, the $5,000 “bonus” the government talks about doesn’t compare to the benefits of a real pay raise.
“For me, it was retention funds, and that is money for over three years, which at best is maybe 85 cents an hour. And if you’re working overtime, like the way nurses have been, it’s probably maybe 50 cents an hour,” Hoy said.
Holding on to nurses means getting rid of Bill 124, and Hoy says that’s the key to getting more nurses ready to serve if the Province intends to move forward with getting thousands of foreign trained nurses into Ontario’s frontline healthcare positions.
“The government needs to get them license ASAP, but that leads to another problem, because now they’re going to need to be orientated, they need to have a mentor to show them how things are done differently in Ontario,” Hoy explained. “When we’re already short half the nurses in a unit, who’s going to support them? We need to bring back the retired nurses back to help, but they’re only coming back when Bill 124 goes out the window, because that’s why they quit in the first place.”