Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott will meet next week with Ontario nurses to talk about staff shortages.
The meeting with Cathryn Hoy, provincial president of the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA), is set for Feb. 3. A date was set on Tuesday after the ONA said on Twitter that the Ontario government turned down a request for a meeting on Monday.
Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for the premier, said on Tuesday that the meeting is an opportunity to listen for the premier and minister. She said they will discuss "the situation on the ground" for nurses.
Hoy said she would like to talk about the nursing shortage in Ontario because it is now acute. The meeting comes as the pandemic accelerates a longstanding trend of nurses leaving the province or leaving the profession altogether due to a number of factors.
"The numbers are dwindling every single day. And it's very frustrating that the government isn't stepping up and wanting to do something about it. It's not going to be fixed overnight. It's not. But if we work together, we could come up with some solutions," said Hoy, whose organization represents 68,000 nurses and health-care professionals and 18,000 nursing student affiliates.
"I talk to nurses every day that are saying, 'I'm retiring, I'm quitting, I'm going to another career.' We're in trouble. I have never seen the situation so dire," she said.
"It's past the critical point."
Hoy said she would also like to raise other issues, including:
Wage parity for nurses within the profession.
"Casualization" of nurses where they work part-time and need two jobs to make ends meet.
The repeal of Bill 124, which caps the wage increases of provincial employees like nurses and teachers.
The training of new graduates.
She suggested bringing back retired registered nurses to support new hires.
"I'm hoping this isn't a meeting just to hear me say something because of the pressures of social media," she said.
"I hope it truly is an olive branch to listen and try and work together to come up with a solution because we are losing health-care professionals each and every day. At some point, there's going to be no return."
Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, said the exodus of nurses is not new but it has increased. Registered nurses from Ontario have gone to Nova Scotia, they are going to Alberta and now they are going to the U.S. in droves, she said. She said the issue is compensation and workloads.
"I feel for my colleagues that are still in the system," she said. "And I feel even more for the patients because then they're getting care from nurses that are stretched to the limit and you cannot provide safe care when you are stretched to the limit."
Nurse says work 'underappreciated' in Ontario
Emily Coffey, 24, who recently quit her job as a registered practical nurse in Toronto, left Ontario for a new opportunity and a change of pace. She said she now works as a licensed practical nurse in Victoria, B.C., where she moved in January. She works in travel nursing.
Coffey said she now has a better work-life balance and she feels she is compensated for her skills.
Coffey said started work in emergency medicine at a Toronto hospital in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said working during the pandemic was frustrating and challenging.
"When COVID came to be, staff are sick. Staff's families are sick and you show up to work and the patient care load is no longer a 4:1 ratio, it's an 8:1 ratio and as one young new nurse or even a senior nurse, that's just extremely challenging," she said.
"Honestly, the patient care became unsafe. We have hallway medicine, we have nurses who are just burned out working overtime because the hospital needs it and you want to support your team, but at the end of the day, it's exhausting," she said.
"My work was just underappreciated," she said.
Her message to the Ontario government: "You need to be paying your nurses what they are worth. We deserve to be paid for the work that we are doing."