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3,000 healthcare workers needed in Ottawa now, union says


Hospitals in Ottawa must add at least 3,000 staff to its workforce in order to maintain the current level of care, warns a union representing healthcare workers and paramedics.

A stark shortage in many healthcare positions has the Canadian Union of Public Employees, CUPE Local 503, calling on the provincial government for immediate action.

"Hospitals are struggling with severe staff shortages and many have closed their ERs, ICUs, and other services temporarily," says Dave Verch, CUPE’s vice-president with Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. "We’re seeing healthcare workers leaving and we’re just not able to replace that experience with the snap of a finger. Never have turnover rates been this high before, we have so many vacancies right now and the pressures building with an ageing population and population growth."

Verch says a nearly 15 per cent turnover rate within Ontario hospitals is not sustainable and points to recent temporary closures of hospital emergency departments in Ottawa, Almonte, Perth-Smith’s Falls and Kemptville, which will only intensify.

"It’s desperate, I think there is definitely a crisis," Verch says. "As more healthcare workers leave, it’s just increasing the workloads which is driving more people out."

And with hospital staff shortages comes longer wait times, including ambulatory response as paramedics must sometimes wait hours to offload patients.

"With regards to the Level Zero crisis, it’s every day with regards to the lunch breaks missed, forced overtime and shift overrun, also every day occupational stress injuries, that’s at an all-time high," says Judd Owens, union shop steward. "For right now, we have to stop the bleeding, a lot of people are showing up to work and they’re behind the eight-ball already with calls that have been waiting in the queue."

In Ottawa, demand for paramedic services is up about 25 per cent, says Carrie-Lynn Poole-Cotnam, CUPE 503 secretary-treasurer. Poole-Cotnam says the city needs about 30 more paramedics to be hired each year. 

"End-of-shift protocols are certainly putting demands on people who are already working 10 to 12 hours," says Poole-Cotnam. "And continuing to wait in offload delays and working 14, 16, 18 hours while our medic are sitting here waiting. Meanwhile, our call volume continues to increase and when people do finally do respond to a 911 call that has been waiting three hours or four hours it means that the intensity of that call increases and then they’re only turning around to come back to the hospital to sit and wait again."

Ottawa Paramedic Service chief Pierre Poirier says there have been challenges with offload delays and Level Zero events – when an ambulance is not available - which has affected employee work hours.

"During our workday, they may be due a break and we have our highest priority calls waiting in the community and we are having to send that paramilitary crew to that next call of service," says Poirier. "My belief is that additional staff will help but in a more important way I think the reduction or removal in offload delays will serve our community the best."

The Ottawa Hospital says it continues to manage staffing levels to ensure and maintain patient safety and that supporting staff is a top priority. Adding that, like they have throughout the pandemic, recruitment efforts are ramping up to address the increased need for hospital care. Top Stories

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