Hospital workers say they “dread” going to work

Unions representing Ontario’s hospital workers say nearly half their members are “dreading” going to work everyday, and many are considering leaving their jobs altogether.

A survey conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) polled over 750 hospital workers across the province, with results overwhelmingly displaying a lack of confidence in the province’s plan for healthcare in the near future.

Of Kingston workers polled by Nanos, 50% said they had trouble sleeping, and 70% are having anxiety about work on a daily basis – 90% of Kingston workers said they weren’t confident about Doug Ford’s healthcare plan with nearly half those saying they’re considering leaving.

Sharon Richer, secretary-treasurer of OCHU/CUPE says the results are disappointing but not shocking to hear and confirm that workers aren’t happy with their working conditions.

“The survey is alarming to most, but not to us, because members have been reaching out to us throughout the year saying that they’re really at a breaking point,” Richer said.

“We’re hearing people saying they’re crying to go into work, because they’re trying to provide the patient care in which they were trained, and they’re just not able to do it.”

Richer says the polls have also confirmed that workers aren’t confident in the Ontario government’s direction for the healthcare system, especially in the near future.

She says the immediate action that the province should take is to commit to more spending in the healthcare system, with the Ontario government’s budget currently accounting for an increase of funding that is less than inflation.

“There’s two things that we’re really trying to get traction with the Ontario Hospital Association, one is patient to staffing ratios, and the next one is creating more full-time jobs over the next five years,” Richer said.

“We’re calling on the government, actually, over the next four years, on top of inflation, to put in $1.25 billion into the system, which we think will definitely help out.”

Richer says the government has $5.4 billion set aside and not allocated and should start infusing some of that into public hospitals to boost staff morale and improve patient outcomes.

The Ontario government has shared plans to boost the number of nurses and healthcare workers in the province through both increasing seats at Ontario universities and by making it easier for out of province or international healthcare workers to join the Ontario work force.

Richer says while that’s a good change that welcomed by OCHU and healthcare workers, it will take time for the positive impact to be felt and will at times create more work for existing employees.

She says it’s helping but not still not meeting the demand, and immediate support for the system should be prioritized as well.

“They’re still inexperienced, certainly, in Ontario’s healthcare system, so they have to be buddied with a senior nurse or a PSW,” Richer said.

“Some learning still needs to certainly happen, which does add an extra layer of stress back on to the staff that are currently already there… this is seeing some people definitely come in, but we’re still seeing very, very high amounts of vacancies within the hospital.”

Hospital staff have been ringing the alarm bell on working conditions for quite some time, and the strain could be further exacerbated by a significant portion of members who, according to the poll, are considering leaving the profession.

Barb DeRoche, President of CUPE Local 1974, says that stress for employees is being caused by staff shortage, and it will only get worse if people become truly fed up and leave, and hospital care will suffer most of all.

“We have such a staff shortage right now at Kingston Health Sciences that when they can’t cover a shift on any given day, that means that those openings are left for the current staff at the hospital to cover that workload,” DeRoche said.

“We were always at a lean staffing, and so over the last few years, that’s increased exponentially… if we lose considerably any more staff, then I’m afraid that they would have to start closing units or work is going to get left undone.”

DeRoche says those impacts are already being seen in Kingston at Hotel Dieu where staffing shortages have had to result in capping patients everyday.

Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, stood by the Ontario government’s healthcare plan, saying Ontario nurses are among the highest paid in the country and that the province’s Your Health plan will better connect Ontarians with the care they need.

She says the Ontario government is addressing the challenges that have been presented, especially pertaining to staffing shortages.

“Our government is proud to have one of the largest publicly funded healthcare systems in the world, a system we have invested over $80 billion this year (23/24), which includes a 4% increase to the hospital sector,” Jensen said in a statement.

“Last year alone, our government had a record breaking year, adding 15,000 new nurses and 2,400 new physicians to the workforce, but we know more need to be done.”

Jensen cited breaking down barriers for interprovincial and international nurses to practice in Ontario, a large scale expansion of medical school in Ontario, and creating more opportunities through the Clinical Scholar Program as steps the government is already taking to address the staffing issues.

In Kingston, over 80% of hospital employees surveyed said there isn’t enough staff to provide adequate service, and over half are unhappy with their compensation.