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Unions say local hospitals facing unsustainable staff turnover

Ontario Council of Hospital Unions is once again calling on the province to acknowledge and act on an ongoing staffing crisis
St. Mary's General Hospital 2
File photo by Blair Adams

Ontario hospitals will need to add an average of 46,000 new staff per year just to break-even with sky-high turnover.

That is according to the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions which said the province-wide staff turnover rate in Ontario hospitals is now a hair shy of 15 per cent.

Here in Waterloo Region, the OCHU said that translates to local hospitals needing to add as many as 1,200 new hires per year.

"And that's as a result of a turnover rate that is now 14.95 per cent -- a number we haven't seen before, current vacancies, and just the pressures from population growth and aging," said Dave Verch, First Vice-President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

It also comes as emergency room wait times continue to climb province-wide.

The average wait to first see a doctor through an Ontario emergency room is up 47 per cent through the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2021. At Grand River Hospital, that wait is up 37 per cent over last year while at St. Mary's General Hospital it's up 55 per cent.

The OCHU is warning those waits will only worsen if nothing changes, while also continuing to call on the province to scrap its wage suppression bill capping wage increases in the sector at one per cent per year over three years.

"The workload increases as a result of the mass exodus of healthcare workers is also a factor because, as more people leave and [hospitals] are unable to replace them, workloads go up," Verch said. "The people left behind are trying to do the best they possibly can but workloads are just unattainable and we feel it potentially affects patient outcomes and patient satisfaction."

Despite that, the OCHU suggests the province has not shown the urgency or commitment to public healthcare required to develop and put into action a comprehensive plan spotlighting retention and recruitment.

"Actually, quite to the contrary, the healthcare minister basically said there is no crisis in healthcare," said Verch.

"This Summer alone there were over 80 ER and ICU and other unit closures across Ontario and the Health Minister said the situation is normal," he continued. "Well, we know it's not normal and it's not acceptable."

Verch suggested the province, the premier, and the health minister are correct when they say the status quo is no longer an option, but he said the answer is not more healthcare privatization.

"Doing nothing is only making the situation worse and we really need action in healthcare right now because it's a healthcare system that needs to be strong and secure and there when Ontarians need it," he said.

He also suggested there's also concern the province may actually move to make the situation worse.

"It was reported the province has $1.6 billion in COVID funding meant to shore-up hospitals to handle these additional costs COVID challenges have brought, that's slated to come off the books in 2023," Verch said.

"We're calling upon the government to invest more into healthcare [so] taking that $1.6 billion out of a healthcare system that's already struggling is only going to make matters worse as well."