Unions call on province to create more full-time nursing jobs in long-term care

·3 min read

The head of an Ontario advocacy group would like everyone to stop assuming there's a shortage of nurses in this province and start talking about the need for full-time jobs and better working conditions, specifically in long-term care.

"Please do not ask me if we have a nursing shortage," said Doris Grinspun, the chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO). "What the system has is a shortage of funding, which is very different."

Before the pandemic, unions and workers in long-term care warned of an urgent need to hire more trained staff in homes they say are often staffed by casual, contract, part-time and agency workers.

That call has become much louder since COVID-19 began to ravage long-term care facilities, leading to 1,994 deaths of residents and eight staff members in the province.

Candace Rennick, secretary-treasurer for CUPE Ontario, said better working conditions are needed — full-time jobs, benefits and sick leave — so people will stay in those jobs.

"It's a demoralizing workforce. Nobody wants to go in and work there. So people need jobs in this province, but we need a complete and total overhaul of the system," said Rennick.


Minimum standard of care

Union leaders are calling on MPPs to pass Bill 13 which would create a minimum standard of four hours of care per resident, per day in nursing homes. The NDP private member's bill is set to be debated Wednesday.

"That would mean an immediate influx in staffing required. Let people know that when they come to work, they're not going to be responsible for caring for 15 to 20 residents at the same time ... so that they can actually care for people with love and dignity and proper supports people need," said Rennick.

The Ontario government has committed to spending more than half a billion dollars in the sector, including hiring and training more workers.

Last Friday, Ontario's Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission recommended the province create more full-time jobs in the sector.

Support from the minister

On Tuesday, Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said she'll back the NDP's Bill 13.

"I think we have to understand how we can achieve better care for our residents in long-term care and our staff so we need to look at all means," said Fullerton.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press
Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

But when asked if she'd support fast tracking the private member's bill, Fullerton did not answer the question directly. Private members bills that are not adopted by the government have a much lower chance of being enacted into law.

"There are many efforts that are underway right now, that our government is working on," said Fullerton.

For several years, the RNAO has been calling for a minimum standard of four hours of care a day for each long-term care resident. The nurses association would like to see 48 minutes of that daily care come from a registered nurse (RN).

"If someone tells me 48 minutes of an RN is too much, let's talk," said Grinspun.