Hospital crisis long time in the making, nurses’ association says

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The current crisis in hospitals didn’t begin with the pandemic but with years of chronic understaffing, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) says.

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ONA president Cathryn Hoy said hospitals are struggling to keep up due to staffing issues, exacerbated by restrictions in personal protection equipment (PPE) use and legislation introduced by the Doug Ford government which capped wages and disrespected nurses.

“Surgeries are being cancelled, clinics are reducing their capacity … the emerg units are overflowing with patients, we have emerg units that should have 30 staff on that actually only have 12 staff on,” Hoy said. “And this isn’t unique to one hospital; this is across the province.

“I really want to be clear — a lot of these units, these hospitals, that are short-staffed and they’re panicking, the COVID numbers in those beds are decreased,” she said.

Niagara Health has announced it would close down its Fort Erie urgent health centre due to 354 staff members in self-isolation.

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ONA vice-president DJ Sanderson said the organization supports vaccination but there was an option under the government’s directive to mask and test those who chose not to get the jab, including nurses and respiratory therapists.

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“A lot of employers rushed right away — without any discussion, without any consultation — to terminate frontline workers … for their vaccination policies,” Sanderson said. “So we’ve watched this come from afar, very, very slowly, and now we’re right here in the middle of it and a lot of these employers are saying we had no choice but to enact these Code Oranges or these emergency measures.”

Some employers are even talking about turning one area of their hospital into a COVID-patient zone with asymptomatic COVID-positive nurses providing the care, Hoy said.

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There’s no quick fix as the pandemic threatens to drag on, Hoy said.

“We need to rebuild,” she said. “How are we going to survive with all the retirements coming up, the new graduates that are going to quit, people that are just going to choose to go from full-time to part-time … We need a better solution for now, we don’t need it in a month from now, we need it a month ago.”

aartuso@postmedia.com

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