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Andrea Horwath says 'action plan' needed to recruit, retain health-care workers

Ontario NDP leader wants to see legislation capping wage increases for health-care workers scrapped
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Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath speaks during a stop in Sault Ste. Marie Thursday before meeting with local health care workers. Left to right: local NDP candidate Michele McCleave-Kennedy, Horwath and Jake Causley-Wilkins.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath is calling for an “urgent” action plan to recruit and retain workers in the health-care sector. 

Horwath is in Sault Ste. Marie Thursday, where she met with local health-care workers in an effort to better understand the issues impacting them. 

“What is happening in our health-care system is really, really troubling,” said Horwath. “We see significant burnout and stress of our frontline health care workers. We know that our nurses are burnt out. Other health care providers are burnt out, and they’re starting to leave the profession.”

During a stop outside of St. Vincent Place Thursday, The NDP leaders cited a recent report by The Ontario Science Table, which shows that 43 per cent of Registered Nurses Association of Ontario members are considering leaving nursing after the pandemic. 

“That’s pretty scary. We need our health care providers, we need our nurses, our PSWs, to be there to support our people, to support our patients, to support people who need the care that they should be able to get and deserve,” said Horwath. “And nobody should be in a situation where they’re waiting with pain, waiting to be seen because there’s a shortage of staff, shortage of nurses.”

Horwath was joined by local NDP candidate Michele McCleave-Kennedy and Jake Causley-Wilikins, a 23-year-old local man living with cerebral palsy and scoliosis who says he was in limbo for years while trying to get specialized health care services once he wasn’t considered a youth. 

I just recently got a doctor this year, and I just recently got a psychiatrist and a physiotherapist this year. I hadn’t had any treatment since 18,” he said. 

This past year, Causley went to the hospital after falling and splitting his head open. Before his injury, he was living on his own, able to walk, work and go to school full-time. 

“They did discover a neck injury, but that was after going to our hospital five times in nine days in order to be taken seriously, because the wait times were so long,” he said. 

And then, there was the added stress of trying to get treatment in the midst of a pandemic. Causley-Wilkins says there was no access to spinal surgeons and specialists locally, so he had to travel to Sudbury, where he had to stay and isolate for a week prior to the appointment. 

He was transferred to Sault Area Hospital. 

“Within 24 hours, I was discharged - no home care, no walker, no physio, no occupational therapy, no psychiatrist. All I had was a doctor,” he said. 

Horwath says Bill 124, which places a one-per-cent wage cap per year on their collective bargaining agreements, needs to be scrapped in order to recruit and retain more frontline health-care workers. 

“Instead of showing people who have battled COVID on the frontlines in our health-care system the respect that they deserve, he’s capped their wages,” said Horwath. “Bill 124 is another disincentive for health care workers to stay in their field, and it shouldn’t be the case that this is a fight that they have to have with their government.”

Ontario's NDP leader says the Liberals fired 1,600 nurses in Ontario when they were in office while “putting the squeeze on hospitals and hospital budgets," only to have the Ford government exacerbate the shortage of frontline health-care workers. 

“We remember the hallway medicine that the Liberals brought us - but Doug Ford’s made it worse with his wage restraint bill, not better. And of course, COVID came along and created such a horrible crisis. And what we need to do is address all of this,” she said. 

Horwath also made appearances in Sudbury and North Bay this week to discuss Laurentian University’s insolvency woes and the opioid crisis, among other issues.