Talent Canada
Talent Canada

News Labour Relations
Hospital staff overworked, support from province needed, Ontario union says

January 3, 2024
The Canadian Press

Photo: karrastock/Adobe Stock
By Jordan Omstead

Hospital workers are buckling under the pressure of heavy workloads largely brought about by a staffing crisis, an Ontario union said Wednesday as it urged the province to do more to support those working in the health-care system.

CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions said Wednesday that understaffing is taking a toll on the mental health of its members, who include registered practical nurses, personal support workers and clerical staff.

A recent survey of more than 750 members indicated two in five workers had contemplated leaving their jobs and a similar amount dread going to work, the union said.

First vice-president Dave Verch, who has worked as a registered practical nurse for 35 years, said he has heard about workers counting cars in the parking lot as they arrive at work and knowing there won’t be enough workers there to fill the shift.


“It’s like climbing a mountain every day. You reach a breaking point. And I think that’s what’s happening to a lot of health-care workers right now,” he said during a news conference on Wednesday.

Health-care unions have long warned a retention and recruitment crisis exacerbated by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic has put hospital workers under immense strain. Ontario saw several hospitals, especially in rural areas, temporarily shut emergency rooms or scale back service because they did not have enough staff to fill shifts.

As the union bargains for a new contract, it’s calling on the government to increase full-time staff levels in hospitals and to follow British Columbia’s lead by bringing in mandated minimum staffing ratios.

British Columbia was the first province in Canada to bring in a plan last year for mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, backed by $750 million in funding over three years.

To help meet its proposals in Ontario, the union wants the province to invest $1.25 billion annually over the next four years on top of inflation.

“They need to do more. They need to invest in the system so that health-care workers can see a bit of an opening for them,” said Sharon Richer, the union’s secretary-treasurer.

The province said last year it had added 15,000 new nurses and had broken down barriers to nursing education and for internationally educated nurses to practice in the province.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones said in a written statement that Ontario nurses are among the highest paid in the country.

As Ontario’s population grows and ages, demand for health-care workers is set to increase.

The Financial Accountability Office, the province’s fiscal watchdog, has said Ontario needs 86,700 additional nurses and personal support workers by 2028 to meet its commitments to expand hospitals, home care and long-term care.

That’s about a 25 per cent increase in nurses and a 45 per cent increase in personal support workers employed in the sector, the watchdog said in a review last year.

Print this page


Stories continue below