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Better pay for nurses will help end the health care crisis, Doug Ford said

Written by Javed Iqbal

Money talks.

That was the message from three unions when they urged Prime Minister Doug Ford to provide better incentives for health workers who staffing shortages have forced the temporary closures of more than 20 emergency rooms and at least one intensive care unit this summer.

“They need to see something other than ‘You are heroes’ coming out of his office,” Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, told an online news conference Friday.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees and SEIU Healthcare unions suggested several steps the Ford government could take to turn the corner crisisincluding increased wages amid rising inflation and the repeal of Bill 124, which has limited most public sector wage increases to one percent annually since 2019.

Also on the list are: financial incentives to discourage retirement and lure back retirees or others who left during the COVID-19 pandemic, more full-time work and on-site childcare.

By paying their nurses better, hospitals could save three or four times what they spend hiring fill-in nurses from staffing agencies to help fill gaps, Stewart added.

About 10,000 health workers have left the field in the past few years and are desperately needed back in their jobs, said Michael Hurley of CUPE.

“Bill 124 goes to the heart of the demoralization,” he told the news conference. “It is not an expression of their value.”

The recommendations follow a move by Health Minister Sylvia Jones on Thursday to ask the regulatory bodies for nurses and doctors to expedite the accreditation of foreign-educated RNs, registered practical nurses, and MDs.

“We know more work needs to be done and we continue to work with all partners, including Ontario Health and the 140 public hospital corporations, the regulatory colleges and health care unions, to address any challenges on the ground,” said Stephen Warner , a spokesman for Jones.

The government has also added $12.4 million in mental health and addiction support to health professionals, hired 10,500 health workers, helped 14,000 students with personal support to pay for their education programs, increased pay for personal support workers and provides $5,000 bonuses to nurses who went through the pandemic.

Nurses would prefer a fair raise that reflects their hard work and importance to the health care system, said Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association and a registered nurse.

“Nurses have been asked to work back-to-back shifts, sometimes for 24 hours straight. Some sleep in the hospital if they are needed. Others are called back with as little as five hours between shifts.”

The nurses’ bonuses were “an erratic approach to labor relations” because they send a signal to other health care workers that they are not valued, Hurley said.

At Queen’s Park, interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns said the government should go back to the drawing board with its April 28 budget reinstated Tuesday to address the health crisis, and reiterated his party’s call for Bill 124 to be repealed.

“(It’s) a very clear signal from a provincial government that ‘we’ll say all kinds of nice things about you, but at the end of the day we’re not willing to put dollars on the table to make life better for you’.”

With files from Robert Benzie

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Javed Iqbal

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