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'A comedy show': RNAO reacts to what it says was another news conference with no news from health minister

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario says Wednesday's update from Ontario's health minister just another announcement about an announcement
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CEO of the RNAO Doris Grinspun speaks in Guelph as part of the RNAO tour. Anam Khan/GuelphToday

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario is accusing the province's health minister of peddling in excuses.

This comes after Christine Elliott addressed the media again on Wednesday flanked by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, repeating a pair of earlier announcements that the Omicron wave is expected to peak this month and that an update is expected this week on the easing of recent pandemic restrictions.

"I actually think she gave no news on the news," said Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. "An announcement that there will be an announcement on Friday."

"Half an hour waiting, they came late half an hour to then hear that there will be an announcement on Friday; this looks like a comedy show."

Grinspun, clearly frustrated, says even if the Omicron wave does peak this month the stress on Ontario's healthcare system will continue.

"We are going to see struggles within our hospitals including hospitalizations until the end of January at least," Grinspun said. "And then the peak in terms of ICUs and the stresses that front-line staff, nurses in particular, doctors, [respiratory therapists], will go throughout February."

The nurses association, which represents some 48,000+ nurses in the province, says its members are ''beyond the breaking point'', adding many are choosing to move elsewhere and suggesting the premier and health minister are not doing enough to stop it.

"Nurses are leaving, [registered nurses] are leaving in significant, significant numbers and it will affect not only this period of the pandemic but post-pandemic, all the surgeries that are waiting," said Grinspun. "That is the news we desperately need and nothing of that was said today."

The RNAO says one issue it was hoping for more action on is the backlog of foreign-trained nurses vying to work in Ontario. The province has previously announced a program which would allow foreign-trained nurses to be deployed to hospitals in need of staffing support but the RNAO says that's not good enough.

"Twenty-one thousand internationally-educated nurses, nurses that were RNs and RPNs in their countries of origin waiting to be processed by the College of Nurses of Ontario," said Grinspun. "Some of them, 10 years [they've been] waiting."

"The province should say, in six months we want half of them processed here because they were outstanding nurses in their countries. There is no rhyme or reason why we are limiting their capacity to work here in Ontario."

Another area the RNAO says the province could take immediate action on has to do with retention and it's an issue which predates the COVID-19 pandemic, the province's wage freeze bill.

"So Bill 124, I hope that will be the news on Friday," Grinspun said. "Not only will we reopen or not, but actually we'll hear repeal Bill 124 -- that should be front-and-centre."

She argues the bill is the main obstacle to retaining nurses already working in the province and it's something the premier has the power to repeal.

"Two years into the pandemic and he still doesn't do it yet he did that for police and firefighters and doctors," said Grinspun. "So, does he have something against nurses or against women? That's something you need to ask the premier."

"It's a disgrace, the solutions are there, there is capacity to fix the problem, we need a government and a premier and a minister of health that wants to do that. That's all that there is, the rest is all excuses."

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