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'Titanic' staffing crisis leaving at least 14 Ontario hospital units shut down ahead of long weekend

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The intensive care unit at a hospital in Bowmanville will be temporarily closed amid a “significant staff shortage,” alongside more than a dozen other Ontario hospitals that are expecting to reduce beds and relocate care ahead of the long weekend.

An Ontario nursing union told CTV News Toronto at least 14 hospitals will be impacted. 

“Long weekends always have an increased visit to emergency rooms, so there'll be further staffing issues, further burnout issues,” Ontario Nurses’ Association President Cathryn Hoy said on Thursday afternoon.

At the centre of the closures is a staffing crisis that Hoy said she can only compare to the “Titanic.”

“That's how serious it is,” she said. “I don't even know if there's words anymore for it.”

Hoy says that Bowmanville is a community that can’t afford to lose 12 intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

But in a statement, Lakeridge Health told CTV News Toronto that they had to make the “difficult decision” to temporarily close their ICU and relocate patients to Ajax Pickering and Oshawa hospitals.

“We recognize the impact of this temporary relocation on patients and their families. This decision was not made lightly,” Lakeridge spokesperson Sharon Navarro told CTV News Toronto.

Emergency rooms in Wingham and Listowel will also be closed for parts of the long weekend.

Hoy said these closures are the result of nurses leaving the profession in “droves.”

Birgit Umaigba, an Ontario emergency room nurse, said she has witnessed this with her own eyes. Just yesterday, the ICU she was scheduled to work at shutdown.

She said two more colleagues told her they were prepared to leave the profession, adding to the list of over a dozen she’s recently seen walk away from the profession to work at Boston Pizza and Costco, some with decades of experience.

The most recent Statistics Canada data illustrates the severity of the situation. Almost one in four nurses said they planned on changing or leaving their job in the next three years.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s minister of health said Sylvia Jones was unavailable for an interview and instead shared a statement.

“Like many other jurisdictions around the world, Ontario’s health system faces pressures due to the challenge of maintaining the required staffing levels."

While Hoy said it’s “too late” for a quick fix, she said repealing Bill 124, which caps a nurse’s salary increase at one per cent, is a start.

The bill was introduced by the Ford government in 2019 as a way to “ensure that increases in public sector compensation reflect the fiscal situation of the province,” the government said at the time.

But Hoy said repealing the bill is the only way to retain nurses and give them much needed hope.

"It'll be a sign of hope so that people will not continue to quit. That finally, finally they'll be recognized and that we're going to do something for them." 

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