As hospital beds empty, nurses fight for hope in every hospital room | Yara Zagaza del Rio

Health Services Alliance of Ontario nurses picketed government buildings across the province on Friday over proposed changes to job security laws. Yara Zagaza delves deeper into the unique experiences of this group of committed public servants

As hospital beds empty, nurses fight for hope in every hospital room

As hospital beds start to close, each day nurses and other health care workers around the province are already facing the consequences of a deep, years-long budget squeeze. So as the Ontario government hints at restructuring the province’s system, nurses are fighting back. They take action to protect nurses’ patient care jobs and patient safety.

Led by the Health Services Alliance of Ontario, 40 hospitals across the province – every hospital in Toronto – went on strike on Friday. It marks their first collective bargaining impasse in a generation. Nurses, together with citizens, concerned about health care in Ontario, have been calling for a long-term solution to an unsustainable fiscal model. They’ve managed to find common ground through respectful dialogue and now nurses have one more thing to go on strike for.

Nurses in labour negotiations with Ontario government face ‘shameful’ terms, says group Read more

This Friday represented their last day to picket in support of patients – after 54 years of collective bargaining, as front-line health care professionals, they don’t need a contract to make patient care clear. Rather than prevent patients from receiving care, government’s proposed changes threaten the safety of staff and patients.

The HSA estimates the Ontario government will save $200m annually by cutting the number of health care jobs. But with high turnover at the bargaining table, it’s impossible to tell what will happen when these jobs are slashed. Despite government claims that staff are safe under the current job protection proposals, the status quo is unacceptable to nurses.

Nurses are an essential and critical component of our health care system. We know the impact each strike day has on those we care for. We’re on the brink of collapse.

In the past four years, overall Ontario funding for the HSA has decreased by almost $300m. More and more chronic conditions like diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, mental health, developmental delays and family caregiving are being reported with increasing frequency. In response, every hospital has seen a decline in patient care – patients wait longer to receive treatment and, increasingly, to return to the beds where they were admitted.

As the system becomes increasingly overloaded, the risk of infection increases, and patients are dying. The same situation could become a deadly epidemic if nurses’ and patients’ privacy rights are breached.

As budget cutting and massive healthcare cuts rage across the province, we cannot afford to forgo the voices and collective insight of Ontario’s dedicated hospital staff. Nurses are also calling for swift action to address a mounting critical illness crisis across the province: cardiac arrests.

For too long, Ontario’s health department has paid lip service to the crisis of sudden cardiac arrest and has ignored the mounting evidence that all-too-common barriers threaten the lives of patients. These barriers put patient safety at risk, and the current budget cuts are jeopardizing life-saving treatments.

As a nurse, it’s my job to make sure patients get the care they need when they need it. And while I’m at it, I’m also teaching my patients, colleagues and leaders how to become empowered health care workers.

Ontario nurses picket government buildings as budget bargaining comes to a head Read more

The consequences are being measured in lives, which is why nurses have so much at stake in this fight. The leadership of the HSA has worked hard to provide nurses with equity and respect, ensuring there are enough nurses to see patients and to deliver care. And I, along with other nurses across the province, support these efforts.

This is a fight for our patients, our organization and our future. Nurses and our members are willing to fight for these gains and to stand up for the patients who deserve the best health care possible.

Yara Zagaza del Rio is president of the HSA

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