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Nurses ‘abandoned’ by Ont. premier, nurses’ association CEO says

As Ontario grapples with a major increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant amid new restrictions that came into effect Wednesday, health-care workers and advocates are calling for more attention and resources to be allotted to nurses buckling under the shortages and overwork.

Speaking on CTV News Channel on Wednesday, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario Doris Grinspun did not mince words about how the province’s nursing staff are feeling with the pandemic strain.

“They’re feeling overstressed, but more importantly…they’re feeling extremely, extremely abandoned by this Premier,” Grinspun said of Ont. Premier Doug Ford. “Do you have any idea how many phone calls I have left? [sic] This is a premier that used to call me back all the time, [and] is ignoring nurses because he knows what he is doing – he’s taking photo ops with empty beds.”

Grinspun said that both Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliot have not been returning her calls of late.

“It is a disgrace, they are abandoning nurses,” she continued. “Nurses, instead of having three to five patients, have 10 patients. Just picture the safety for patients and the moral distress for nurses being left in that situation.”

Grinspun said other premiers have been “speaking about nurses” and doing what they can to address the issues in other provinces surrounding pandemic strain on resources and staffing – but she does not see the same efforts from the Ontario government.

“Instead of calling back and having a conversation, or at least saying on national television ‘I am with you’… here that is not the case,” she said.

In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health said the province has added over 6,700 health-care workers and staff to the system, including more than 4,700 nursing externs and preceptors in acute care, and is working to add 6,000 more health-care workers before the end of March.

“Omicron has resulted in a sudden and significant increase in hospital admissions, as well as a recent increase in staffing challenges in the health care sector due to the rapid rise in infection and exposure. That’s why we took swift action to temporarily move the province into Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen with modifications to blunt transmission and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed as the province continues to accelerate its booster dose rollout,” the statement reads.

Outlining what the province has done to mitigate the burden on nurses, including pausing all non-emergent and surgeries and procedures, issuing a call for qualified individuals to assist in the vaccination drive, and updating the province testing and isolation guidelines, the statement said the province “will continue to work with our health care and hospital partners to ensure they have the support they need and will not hesitate to take further action as needed.”

Neither Ford’s office nor the Ministry of Health addressed specific allegations made by Grinspun, such as not returning calls and the patient to nurse ratio in province’s hospitals.

“We said to the premier how to fix this problem,” Grinspun said, noting staff working double shifts and 16-hour days, or being unable to find childcare.

“Number one, repeal Bill 124 immediately. He has the emergency powers to do that – that would send a message,” she said of the nursing wage-suppression legislation.

Grinspun listed other actions she says Ford should take to address the situation, including publicly speaking up about the issues facing nurses in particular, topping up compensation and fast-tracking internationally-educated nurses so they can enter the workforce.

“There are a thousand solutions…but the premier is choosing to ignore them,” Grinspun said. “We are absolutely distressed that the premier is saying all the time ‘We didn’t know,’ ‘We are doing our best.’ Let me tell you, we will not have enough ICU beds for children – we have warned the government.”

Grinspun said she would be sending an open letter to the premier on Wednesday outlining her and her association’s concerns.

“Enough is enough, he needs to respond.” 

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