Nursing shortage hinders COVID-19 response in the midst of the Omicron variant

(Courtesy of Viki Mohamad, Unsplash)

As the pandemic nears its two-year anniversary, the Ontario government has come under scrutiny for neglecting the province’s precarious healthcare system.

Nurses across the province have stressed the need for adequate support and increased capacities for hospitals in the face of Canada’s record-breaking nursing shortage. The increased stress that nurses are put under due to increased overtime, poor pay, and inadequate resources have led to more nurses retiring, leaving remaining nurses with even more stress. 

The record-breaking COVID-19 case numbers brought by the Omicron variant have further exacerbated problems in the hospital system.

Kim Yanto, a fourth-year health studies student who works at SickKids as a unit clerk, says that the nursing shortage, which was a problem even before the most recent COVID-19 wave, has had far-reaching effects across the hospital.

“The nurses I work with always have at least two patients, and that’s not even including the patients of the nurse they’re covering when they go on breaks,” Yanto states. “It’s tough for them to have a shortage of staff within the unit. That goes for other units as well at SickKids. Units borrow nurses here and there.”

Yanto herself has felt the effects of the nursing shortage. “When a day-shift clerk calls in sick, the unit’s charge nurse would beg for the evening-shift clerk to come in because they’re already swamped with so much bedside routine for their patients that they can’t have themselves running to the desk just to pick up a call that’s non-urgent. I’ve done this a lot during the holidays, and they’re super grateful for it because I feel for them.”

Yanto says that one way to relieve the effects of the shortage would be to recognize the qualifications of nurses who have trained overseas. “Internationally educated nurses can be given the priority to become a registered nurse fast so that they can practise nursing and fill staffing needs.” 

However, one of the reasons why many nurses are leaving the profession and continue to suffer poor working conditions is the effects of Bill 124. 

Bill 124, legislation introduced in 2019 and caps wage increases of public sector employees by one per cent each year, has been derided for being unfair to nurses in particular. The nurses’ unions have cited it — along with the chronic mismanagement of the healthcare system by the provincial government — as a contributing factor to the nursing shortage. 

“We cannot overstate the negative impact that Bill 124 has had on our nurses and healthcare providers,” Cathryn Hoy, the president of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), says. “While the government says it respects its healthcare ‘heroes,’ its actions punish them and have left them demoralized, hopeless, angry, disillusioned, and looking to leave the profession.”

Hoy emphasizes that Bill 124 exempted for-profit, private long-term care home nurses, as well as male-dominated public services including firefighters and police. “Other measures have taken away any control nurses have over their schedules, and left them targeted to be redeployed by their employers at will,” she adds.

Nurses across the province have appealed to the government to repeal Bill 124, and a Charter challenge has already been lodged by the ONA. “Respect nurses and health-care professionals. Listen to what they say – they are on the front lines and have solutions to improve care,” Hoy says, calling for a repeal of Bill 124 to “stop muzzling the voices of nurses.” 

About the Author

By Diego Vargas

Former Editor

Diego is a communications student at York University’s Glendon campus. As a Filipino international student, he is deeply passionate about issues affecting racialized and immigrant communities, as well as LGBTQ+. Through his writing, he hopes to shed light on these issues within a Canadian context. In his free time, Diego likes to play guitar and learn new languages.


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