Advocates believe nursing is ‘on the road to recovery’
Torstar News Service
After being in a serious state of decline for more than a decade, nursing in Ontario is coming off the critical list.
But is far from being in good health, says Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the Ontario Nurses Association, the union representing 53,000 front-line nurses.
“We have made some inroads, but we are not there yet and we have a long way to go. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, but it’s a dim light,” says Haslam-Stroud.
“We have been working with the (provincial) government, employers and the RNAO (Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario) to bring nursing back up to the great profession it was before morale plummeted.
“We need more for front-line nurses,” she adds. “Workload and safety are two areas that we have a ways to go in our discussions with the government.”
But at least nursing is now on the government’s radar screen, she says.
Provincial initiatives in recent years have been cause for guarded optimism, say both Haslam-Stroud and Doris Grinspun, executive director of the RNAO.
Nursing is “on the road to recovery” after the seismic shift in the workplace caused by layoffs during the provincial funding cutbacks of the 1990s, says Grinspun.
Nurses went through bad times, as hospitals and other health-care institutions reacted to the shrinking funding by cutting full-time jobs and using more part-time and casual workers.
By 1998, the number of nurses working full time in Ontario compared to part-time/casual help had dropped to 50 per cent, from almost 60 per cent in the late 1980s.
Increasing workloads, stress, burnout, and lack of jobs for new graduates all took their toll on the profession. Many new nursing grads were forced to take part-time or casual jobs, or look for work in other provinces or the United States.
Grinspun says that sent out a “bad message” and discouraged many prospective candidates from the profession, leading to a drop in nursing graduates.
Studies have shown an aging workforce poses another problem, as more than 20 per cent of Ontario’s nurses are eligible for retirement.