TORONTO, ON – With health care job vacancies skyrocketing, new long-term care beds and a provincial government fond of “Band-Aid” health workforce approaches, Ontarians will see unprecedented health care staff shortages of more than 50,000 workers over the next few years.

More than 59,000 new registered practical nurses (RPNs), personal support workers (PSWs) and registered nurses (RNs) will be needed just to meet the promised increase in long-term care beds and higher care levels by 2024-25. Tens of thousands additional health care staff will be required to deal with the post-pandemic surgical/procedure backlog, which is already projected to take 3.5 years to clear, and the pressure of a growing and aging population, which is driving up demand for hospital, home and community care.

Government plans to date will only add about 8,000 PSWs to the health system by 2022-2023 and train just 2,500 extra RPNs and RNs by 2025-2026.

“There is a morale crisis driving the exodus of health care workers in Ontario. The combination of wages held down while inflation surges, understaffing, the lack of full-time work, the pressures of relentless shift and weekend work, a high level of violence from patients and families and the refusal to provide them with the equipment they need to work safely have left them feeling profoundly unvalued and unsafe. The Ontario government desperately needs a plan to remedy this if it wants to recruit and retain health care caregivers,” said Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

Pandemic burnout is a factor fueling an exodus of staff from the health sector. The Premier has acknowledged a 15% shortage of front-line health care staff. The PC’s promise to train new heath care staff falls far short of meeting patients’ needs over the next three years and there are no permanent plans to help to retain those currently working in hospitals, long-term care and home/community settings.

“We have been sounding the alarm about the healthcare staffing crisis for many years, and things have only gotten worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With increased care and capacity plans in long-term care, an aging population, the unaccusable 3.5-year backlog for surgeries and procedures, and our home care sector only operating at half capacity, if we don’t have immediate solutions to the human health resource crisis – solutions that must include both recruitment and retention – the people of Ontario are going to suffer dire consequences. We are calling on the Ford government to immediately address these issues. Every day and week that goes by, hundreds more are leaving the sector. We can’t afford to wait any longer,” said Sharleen Stewart, SEIU Healthcare president.

During the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, there was a 116% one-year increase in RPN vacancies in Ontario. Today, RPN vacancies are over 6 times higher than they were in 2015. When asked what is needed to improve retention rates, hospital-based RPNs identified increased full-time job opportunities and significant, permanent wage increases as key strategies to retain them.

Nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates also saw a steady increase in the number of vacancies in the pre-COVID period, with vacancies now over three times the level found in 2015. Other health care service and office occupations, such as food services, housekeeping and maintenance, have also seen a significant increase in vacancies – up almost three-fold since 2015.

OCHU-CUPE and SEIU Healthcare are asking the PC government to work with health care unions on sustained initiatives to retain Ontario’s dedicated hospital, long-term care and community care staff that include:

• Increased full-time work to reduce the total number of new staff needed
• Higher wages on a permanent basis
• Improved health and safety protections, including reducing workplace violence, to make health care a more desirable career option
• Funding to resource front-line staff retention measures in the coming 2022 provincial budget.

This week at over 100 hospitals across Ontario, 70,000 hospital staff represented by CUPE and SEIU Healthcare are participating in a sticker action to protest understaffing, a lack of protection from workplace violence, and insufficient access to personal protective equipment.