A new report from a union representing hospital workers in Ontario says the province must make significant investments over the next for years to improve staffing levels and capacity.
On Wednesday in Peterborough, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) released its report, The Hospital Crisis: No Capacity, No Plan, No End, outlining ongoing issues with inadequate staffing at hospitals across the province. The OCHU represents 40,000 members and is the hospital division for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
The report notes Ontario needs to improve staffing levels and bed capacity by 22 per cent to address patient needs by 2027. That’s approximately 8,000 beds province-wide.
For the Peterborough Regional Health Centre, that’s the equivalent of adding 107 more beds and 493 additional staff, the report concludes.
“Just to be able to meet the demands of population growth and aging,” said Michael Hurley, OCHU president.
Hurley says the province is in a “deep crisis” with “no signs of improvement,” impacting patients and staff alike.
“The government must address the untenable situation in our public hospitals on a war footing,” said Hurley. “You’ve got services being reduced because of staff shortages, you’ve got patients being treated on stretchers because of lack of capacity, you’ve got people waiting for services for long periods or being turned away from services, you’ve got people being discharged prematurely. It’s unacceptable.”
PRHC declined an interview Wednesday with Global News. Instead, hospital president and CEO Dr. Lynn Mikula issued a statement acknowledging PRHC and other Ontario hospitals continue to experience “significant pressures” in its emergency department and across the hospital.
“These ongoing pressures are the result of a combination of factors that pre-date the pandemic but have been made worse by its effects,” she stated. “We are seeing higher patient acuity, meaning more people who are sick enough to need admission to a hospital bed. The hospital is very full, operating at or above 100 per cent of its inpatient bed capacity. And like other hospitals, we also have ongoing staffing shortages.”
Mikula noted ED wait times are longer than usual. The hospital encourages people to consider the urgency of their condition and to possibly consider alternative care options such as walk-in and virtual clinics before coming to the ED.
“Our staff and physicians are working incredibly hard under very challenging circumstances to make sure patients have access to the level of care and support they need,” she said. “Please be patient and kind with them.”
The OCHU report also says based on the current government’s plans, Ontario’s hospital staffing and capacity will grow by less than three per cent over the next four years. Since 2020, hospital staffing levels in Ontario have only increased 0.4 per cent, according to Statistics Canada data in the report.
The report notes that other provinces’ hospitals have 18 per cent more staff per capita than Ontario’s hospitals.
“Overall if Ontario had the same staffing capacity as the other provinces and territories, we would have another 33,778 full-time staff working in Ontario hospitals,” the report says.
The report says in more “traditional areas” of hospital work — such as inpatient care, emergency care, diagnostic services, operating rooms and intensive care — Ontario is understaffed.
If the province kept pace with other provinces, there would be an additional 8,130 staff.
The largest part of the staff deficit for Ontario is nursing and inpatient services. Other provinces have nearly 39 per cent more full-time employed workers per 100 population compared with Ontario, the report notes.
If Ontario was on par with other provinces, there would be another 16,201 full-time inpatient jobs in its hospitals, the union states.
“That would allow a lot more hospital beds and inpatients and would help solve the capacity crisis we currently experience,” the report states.
The union says the government’s plan to grow capacity by 3,000 beds over the next decade “falls well short” of what is required. The union says that equates to a 0.79 per cent annual increase compared with a 1.5 per cent population growth rate over the next decade.
The OCHU offers a number of staffing solutions, criticizing governments past and present for compensation reductions and its “refusal to deal with widespread violence” against hospital staff.
“The ongoing retention and recruitment challenges will only worsen if the government fails to address working conditions and compensation,” Hurley said. “Staff-to-patient ratios are extremely poor and getting worse. There are so many patients as demand for hospital care continues to grow, and the workloads continue to intensify. The conditions are so unsatisfactory that staff feel like they are failing patients and they just can’t do it anymore.”
The union’s suggestions include:
- Recruit back “thousands” of nurses, personal support workers, paramedical, service and other staff who are no longer working. The union says there are more than 15,000 licensed nurses who are not practising. “It’s time for an aggressive plan to entice these workers back into the hospital workforce.”
- Enable all staff to work to their full scope of practice.
- Ban the use of nursing agency staff, which the union says costs double or triple what hospitals pay their own staff and “bleeds away” resources from 24-hour and weekend staff.
- Increase wages.
- Drop the appeal of Bill 124, which limits health-care workers’ wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for each of three years. The union says a successful appeal would “cut hospitals’ wages and compensation even more dramatically” and threatens to destabilize the workforce, “possibly even clawing back hard-won wage increases.”
- Add financial incentives to bolster short-term hiring
- Increase the amount of full-time work as opposed to part-time or casual. “Turning these workers in to full time employees will significantly increase health care capacity and create a more tempting work environment,” the report states.
- More efforts to reduce workplace violence in health care.
“Government must not tinker, it must act quickly and strongly to end the health care capacity crisis,” the report concludes.
More to come.
— with files from Sam Houpt/Global News Peterborough
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