SUDBURY, ON –/COMMUNITYWIRE/– Today, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) called for the immediate addition of 120 full-time staff at Sudbury’s Health Sciences North (HSN) to deal with higher patient volumes from this fall and winter’s COVID-19 wave and the coming flu season. This is on top of to the hundreds more staff needed in 2023 to just maintain existing patient care and service levels at HSN.
“Failure to staff up immediately and prepare for the influx patients coming in the next few months will mean the care and staffing challenges HSN has faced during the last year will deepen. COVID hospitalizations are already increasing rapidly across the province. The hiring for the 120 additional staff needs to happen now to avoid a new COVID-flu season fueled crisis, on top of the existing staffing shortfall that’s created significant patient care challenges in 2022,” said Dave Verch a registered practical nurse (RPN) and CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Workers (OCHU-CUPE) first vice-president.
CUPE based its call for staff additions on a modest 3% COVID-flu surge over the next few months.
Across Ontario, the wait time to be seen in emergency rooms has consistently spiked since the Doug Ford PCs have been in government, with a 47% increase in the last year alone. This summer, HSN also experienced an increase in ER wait times. The time to be seen by a doctor at the hospital has also increased from 1.8 hours in 2021 to 2.2 hours to the summer of 2022.
“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. Now with the next wave of COVID upon us and the flu season around the corner, already exhausted front-line hospital staff are dismayed and further demoralized by the provincial government’s inaction on staffing,” said Verch.
Sudbury paramedics responded to over 13,000 calls from January until May 2022, witnessing a 9 per cent increase in call volumes relative to the same period in 2021. CUPE 4705, the union that represents 150 paramedics in Sudbury, said that even as demand continues to increase rapidly, paramedic staffing levels have not improved over the past several years. The result is a decline in the ability to appropriately serve patients, the union said, citing a nearly 20 per cent increase in ambulance response times between 2019 and 2021.
Bryan Keith, the president of CUPE 4705, said that understaffing has caused heavy workloads for paramedics who are forced to skip breaks and work overtime. The toll of being chronically under-resourced has led to a retention and recruitment challenge, as paramedics continue to quit their jobs and replacements are scarce. The union is calling for a provincial staffing strategy to address the crisis.
“The Ontario provincial government must immediately invest in improving staffing levels and working conditions at hospitals and paramedic services. The residents of Sudbury should be able to rely on an ambulance arriving in time when they call 911, and the paramedics serving them should have decent working conditions. It’s high time that the government take action to stabilize our public health care system,” said Keith.
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% 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.
The 46,000 new hires provincially is in addition to the staff needed to deal with the anticipated increase from the fall/winter COVID and flu patient influx, said Verch.