Ontario’s economic statement signals government’s concerns with nursing human resources

RNAO issued a media release following the Ontario government’s economic outlook and fiscal review on Nov. 4.

Toronto, Nov. 4, 2021. The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) applauds the government for recognizing the need to staff long-term care homes with the expertise of nurse practitioners (NP). As part of the government’s fall economic statement released in the legislature by Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy today, it promises to allocate funding to hire 225 NPs over three years, beginning with 75 positions in 2022-23. Given the devastation in that sector with 3,824 resident deaths through four waves of the pandemic, RNAO says NPs and their legislative authority to diagnose and prescribe will improve care and the quality of life for residents, reduce unnecessary transfers to hospitals, and help retain staff that will be better supported to provide care.  

RNAO welcomes the government’s plans to add and upskill RNs and RPNs to begin the task of building up Ontario’s nursing workforce. “It’s not nearly enough compared to the shortfall of 21,704 RNs in Ontario, but it is recognition that we must act to address the reality that the province has the lowest RN-to-population ratio in Canada,” says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun.

Dr. Grinspun says that “the government’s plans to increase enrollment at nursing schools and add bridging programs to entice more PSWs and RPNs to become RNs are an essential part of a recruitment strategy. We need nurses to build their careers in Ontario rather than seeing them move to other Canadian jurisdictions and the United States, as is happening now,” laments RNAO’s CEO, reminding Premier Ford that nurses are also angered and being driven away by Bill 124 – legislation that limits wage increases to one per cent and which has the net effect of decreasing their income given increases in the cost of living. “This is why we will continue to insist that Premier Ford immediately repeal this bill.”  

RNAO remains unclear on how the government plans to realize its commitment to hire 27,000 nurses and PSWs by 2024-25 and provide each long-term care resident with the four hours of daily nursing and personal care it has pledged to deliver and that RNAO outlines in its Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee. The association is also skeptical of the government’s plan to address the backlog of surgical procedures affecting thousands of Ontarians, most of which require RN expertise.  

Recognizing the need to relieve pressure on both the hospital and long-term care sectors and provide Ontarians with the opportunity to receive safe care in their own homes and communities, RNAO welcomes the government’s promise of $548.5 million over the next three years to expand home and community care. While the investment falls short of the 20 per cent boost in funding RNAO called for, it is an important start towards building a more robust community sector as outlined in the association’s visionary Enhancing Community Care for Ontarians report first released in 2012 and updated in 2014 and 2020, says Dr. Grinspun.

Nurses also welcome the news to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour effective Jan. 1 and indexed to the cost of living. While far below what is considered a living wage needed to lift people out of poverty, RNAO is pleased the government has recognized its error when it cancelled a planned increase to $15 by the previous Liberal government. “It’s insufficient to give people the dignity they need to live comfortably, however, we are glad the government understands the economic devastation the pandemic brought on those with limited means through no fault of their own,” says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth.

The fall economic statement provided no response to the other pandemic that is devastating communities across Ontario: the growing number of opioid overdoses. Twenty-five hundred people died due to opioid overdose in Ontario in 2020 (according to the latest figures), an average of seven lives lost each day. RNAO is shocked people who use substances are left to cope on their own. “The government committed to fund 21 consumption and treatment service sites three years ago. There is no doubt that the need for these sites has increased and yet it hasn’t delivered on its promise,” says Hoffarth. “Persons who use substances, their loved ones and our communities are looking for help and the nurses who work with this vulnerable population are left to wonder why the government fails to see the importance of investing in harm reduction services that would save hundreds of lives.”

During a week when the world’s attention is fixed on COP26 in Scotland, the economic statement fails to address the importance of the climate crisis and the health effects on Ontarians, something RNAO says must be urgently addressed. RNAO is taking part in the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice at Queen’s Park (Saturday, Nov. 6, at 1 p.m. ET), alongside thousands of Ontarians calling on governments to address the climate emergency.