KITCHENER, ON –/COMMUNITYWIRE/– Unless Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) area hospitals hire 1,200 staff annually, problems with spiking emergency room wait times and unprecedented staffing shortages will deepen as the population grows and ages, said the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) at a media conference in Kitchener today.
CUPE based its call for the 1,200 new hospital staff hires at Kitchener-Waterloo multiple hospital campus sites, on available government and hospital data.
The average length of ER wait times at both the Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s General Hospital have increased, by 37 per cent and 55 per cent respectively last year. Across Ontario, the wait time to be seen in emergency has consistently spiked since the Doug Ford PC’s have been in government with a 47 per cent increase in the last year alone.
This summer, KW hospitals experienced staffing shortages and high patient volumes. Several dozen hospitals across Ontario also closed emergency rooms and other units. These staff shortages and closures will “only intensify” under the current health human resource strategy of the PC provincial government, said Dave Verch, a registered practical nurse (RPN) and first vice-president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE).
Verch added that “so far, the provincial government has not shown the urgency or commitment to public health care required to develop a hospital workforce retention plan to stabilize capacity in our public hospitals. That would require them to improve working conditions to stop the bleeding of staff. This includes increasing wages, full-time employment and lowering workloads. Then the number of resignations would go down and hospitals would not have to recruit so many new staff to deal with the unprecedented turnover rates and increased needs of an ageing and growing population.”
Long emergency room wait-times result in “offload delays” for paramedics, preventing them from safely transferring patients to the care of hospital staff. Offload delays combined with understaffing at paramedic services and rising call volumes are subsequently causing critical ambulances shortages. In 2021, offload delays and call volumes in Waterloo Region increased by 85 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, compared to the previous year. In an October 2021 survey, 91 per cent of CUPE paramedics in the Waterloo Region said they did not have enough staff to keep up with demand.
“The Ontario provincial government must immediately invest in improving staffing levels and working conditions at hospitals and paramedic services. Call volumes for paramedics continue to rise dramatically in Waterloo Region, without a corresponding increase in staffing levels. The demanding working conditions are making it hard to recruit and retain paramedics, as we face high rates of injuries and burnout. We need a province-wide strategy to address the staffing crisis,” said Nick Desclouds, an active paramedic and president of CUPE 5191, the union that represents about 300 paramedics in Waterloo Region.
To keep hospital emergency rooms and other units from closing and to decrease the time paramedics spend offloading patients at hospitals, overall, across Ontario, 46,000 more hospital staff must be hired just to deal with a 14.95 per cent hospital staff turnover rate, the very high number of hospital job vacancies, the impacts of COVID and long COVID, and the increased needs of an aging and growing population.