BRAUN: Public rally against Bill 124 underscores nurses’ dissatisfaction

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Will the nursing shortage affect you?

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You can bet your life on it.

Registered nurses are the engine of the health-care system, and after giving their all for 20 months during COVID, they are exhausted.

Nurses are fleeing the profession, and it’s probably not just the inadequate salaries or the lousy working conditions.

It’s the disrespect.

Ontario has a nursing crisis. It had a nursing crisis long before COVID happened, but the pandemic made everything worse.

For those who’ve been in the trenches for almost two years, the latest slap in the face came Friday when Premier Ford announced an end to capacity limits and a Jan. 17 end for proof of vaccination.

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) responded at once with a statement decrying both the premier’s rush to reopen and his failure to announce mandatory vaccination for all health care workers.

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Dr. Doris Grinspun, head of the RNAO, doesn’t understand why the premier is gambling with all the progress made thus far, “Especially when the end is in sight — when a vaccine for children has finally been approved, when we finally have an excellent rate of vaccination overall.

“Why lift restrictions now? Why drop the vaccine requirement now?”

The potential for dropping proof of COVID vaccination in January is particularly baffling, said Grinspun, as kids won’t all be vaccinated yet and it’s also flu season.

And it’s nurses who’ll be left to mop up the mess if COVID numbers head north again.

Grinspun is sounding the alarm about the exodus from nursing.

Among the social determinants of health is access to affordable health services of decent quality, something most Canadians take for granted.

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At the centre of those services are Registered Nurses, the linchpin of the medical system. Nurses do 90% of the work in healthcare.

It’s accurate to say there is no medical system without RNs. Their shortage — not a lack of surgeons or operating theatres  — is the reason hospitals are having so much trouble playing catch-up with all the surgeries that got postponed during COVID.

But long before people require hospital care, they encounter nurses in a hundred different roles in the community:  in primary care, education, wellness promotion and disease management.

Nurse-led programs are transforming health care, and its cost, in Canada.

Sadly, Ontario has the distinction of having the lowest RN-to-population ratio in the country, and it’s just getting worse.

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Having worked flat-out for 20 months with days off and vacations cancelled, “nurses have double and triple the patients now.

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“The ‘heroes’ are totally exhausted and they don’t want to work with unvaccinated people anymore. They don’t want to risk their lives,” said Grinspun.

“Add in Bill 124 and you have a toxic recipe.”


  1. Nurses quitting in droves, disrespected by pay cap bill, ER docs say

  2. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, left, asks Ontario Premier Doug Ford questions in the legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto on May 12, 2020.

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  3. Finance Minister Rod Phillips and Premier Doug Ford. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun

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Bill 124 limits wage increases to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for three years and was introduced by the Ford government in 2019.

Had the premier repealed 124, “Nurses would feel respected and valued and would continue to do the quadruple extra work they’ve been doing for the past 20 months.”

What’s required, said Grinspun, are a vaccine mandate for all health workers, a concerted provincial effort to retain nurses and recruit more into the profession, and the end of Bill 124.

“We have to solve this. We are facing a mega-crisis in nursing and there’s not a peep about it from the premier or the Minister of Health,” she said.

On Nov. 14, Grinspun and other speakers will be part of the Kill Bill 124 public rally at Nathan Phillips Square at noon.

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