Ontario health minister’s denial of ‘mass exodus’ of nurses feels ‘painful’ and ‘dismissive’ to some

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the province has seen “no mass exodus of nurses” leaving the profession – a comment some nurses say is “dismissive” and “painful” to hear.

“In fact, we have not seen a mass exodus of nurses leaving the system,” Jones said while speaking to reporters in Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

“What we have are nurses and caregivers who have a lot of options to choose when they want to practice nursing in the province of Ontario.”

A day earlier, a court ruled Bill 124, which set the wages of public sector workers, including nurses, at a maximum, unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, the Ontario government released a statement expressing its intention to appeal the decision.

Since the Ford government introduced Bill 124 in 2019 to help eliminate Ontario’s deficit, nursing unions have argued that limiting workers’ wages to a maximum of one percent for three years has contributed to nurses leaving the industry en masse.

“It was heartbreaking,” Marida Etherington told CTV News Toronto, nodding to her own departure from the industry. For nearly 30 years she worked as a nurse at St. Joseph’s Health Center in Toronto.

Just a few weeks after the pandemic lockdowns were enforced, she said she saw signs of how healthcare was being handled and decided to leave and start her own business as an RN psychotherapist.

“I planned to stay at St Joe’s until I retired, that was my plan, at least 12 years,” she said.

But instead, she began to see nurses as clients. “Over the past year, I’ve had emails from at least 25 nurses wanting to change the type of work they do. I’d say we’re among the hundreds of nurses looking for options,” Etherington said.

“If we haven’t had a total collapse, it’s because of the dedication of the people who are still there,” she added.

Birgit Umaigba, an RN in the Greater Toronto Area, said she saw firsthand how her colleagues left the profession, some taking up administrative positions, others moving south of the border where nurses are paid higher wages.

“Just a few weeks ago, I was on a ward with my student and there were only two nurses for 27 patients,” she said. “That is dangerous.”

Umaigba said it was “painful” for her to hear the health minister deny that nurses are leaving the sector.

“I don’t understand who she’s talking to and why she’s so dismissive of our reality,” she said. “Has the minister recently or ever visited an emergency room?”

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