Union finds 44 per cent of hospital workers ‘dread’ going to work in Hamilton and Ontario

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Published January 2, 2024 at 3:09 pm

Nearly 45 per cent of hospital workers “dread” coming to work, according to a recent study by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The union hired Nanos Research pollsters to survey 750 hospital workers across Ontario to gauge their confidence as employees. The pollsters asked about the workers’ confidence in the Ontario government’s plan to improve the healthcare system, their satisfaction with working conditions and negative mental health effects.

The poll comes as Ontario has struggled through a years-long acute staffing shortage while hospitals continue to exceed patient capacity. It’s been a difficult season for Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) hospitals as three of the four are over-capacity as of Dec. 28.

  • Hamilton General Hospital 102%
  • Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre 104%
  • McMaster Children’s Hospital 71%
  • West Lincoln Memorial Hospital 110%

However, this is lower than the previous update which found the hospitals were between 96 and 126 per cent capacity.

Much of this strain is due to the seasonal influx of respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 and the flu. This exacerbates the staffing crisis, causing closed emergency rooms, delayed treatment, and poorer care. As a direct result of the staffing shortage, HHS had to shutter one of its two urgent care clinics on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

“We recognize the impact that such difficult decisions may have on our patients and their families. We thank everyone for their patience and understanding,” HHS wrote. “We sincerely appreciate the work of all our staff and physicians to support patients and their families at this very trying time.”

More broadly the union found “The current government ran in 2018 on a promise of ending hospital hallway healthcare. When COVID hit, the focus became preserving limited hospital capacity. Now we have a near constant stream of Emergency Room closures in rural areas, long waits in backed-up urban Emergency Rooms, a record level of hospital hallway healthcare, and many other problems.”

The study also found Ontario, despite having the largest population in the country, has 18 per cent fewer healthcare workers than its fellow provinces. The problem is only getting worse as all three subcategories of healthcare workers have decreased over the last three years.

Nursing is the worst affected subcategory shrinking from more than 209,000 in late 2021 to fewer than 182,000 in early 2023. As such Ontario lost 13 per cent of its nursing workforce in less than two years.

While the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic is a major factor, compensation is another large concern. On average, other provinces spend about 67 per cent of their health budget on staffing. Ontario has trended beneath this spending 59 per cent. This is down nearly five percent in 2005.

The union will share more information about its findings at a press conference on Jan. 3.

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