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Ontario's Ford to meet again with nurses' union on worker retention plan

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to meet again next week with the president of a union representing nurses to discuss plans to retain workers in the field.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to meet again next week with the president of a union representing nurses to discuss plans to retain workers in the field.

There's no official date set for the second meeting between Ford and Ontario Nurses' Association president Cathryn Hoy, but Hoy said it should happen early next week.

At the initial Thursday meeting with Ford, Hoy said they discussed a controversial bill that caps annual public sector wage increases at one per cent, which Hoy's union and other nurses groups want repealed.

Hoy said Ford didn't commit to repeal the legislation during their meeting, but she said he "acknowledges that nurses need more in order to be retained."

They agreed to meet again to focus on retaining nurses as the already depleted workforce struggles under the latest wave of COVID-19 to strain the health system over the past two years.

"They're supposed to come prepared with a plan on what they are going to do or give to the nurses of Ontario to retain them," she said. 

Health worker groups have repeatedly raised that nurses and others are increasingly burnt out and many are choosing to leave the sector altogether. 

Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott said following the Thursday ONA meeting the government knows "more needs to be done to further expand staffing."

They said the province has asked the union for "input and ideas on what we can do attract, train and retain more nurses, as well as get them into the system sooner."

As a retention strategy, Hoy said her group recommends government funding to support bring recently retired nurses back into the field to help train new graduates and supervise internationally trained nurses.

"That is something that can be done very, very quickly, but it has to be funded," Hoy said. 

Ontario recently cleared internationally trained professionals to work in the province's hospitals. But they must be supervised by another health practitioner during their shifts, which Hoy said is not a helpful solution for alleviating nurses' already heavy workloads. 

She said she also recommended the province develop a 12-month program to help registered practical nurses become registered nurses more quickly.

Hoy said she wants to hear a strong commitment from Ford about what he plans to do on the issue. 

"If the premier wants to retain the nurses he has and not lose any more, because trust me they're leaving every single day ... he needs to do something," she said. 

Ford and Elliott's Thursday statement said the meeting with the nurses' union "was a continuation of many ongoing and important conversations with our frontline partners, including nurses, doctors, (personal support workers), first responders and other health system leaders" on plans to build "a more resilient health system." 

Ford's office did not immediately respond when asked if any other meetings were planned with other groups on the issue of health worker retention.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2022.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press


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