Hamilton hospital alleges workers are organizing sick calls to disrupt operations

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Published May 4, 2023 at 4:13 pm

Effective Dec. 14, 2021, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton will require all of its health-care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The pandemic brought out the dark side of the healthcare system in Ontario. Insufficient staffing and overworked nurses tending to patients round the clock without enough downtime to recover led to health-care worker burnout and shortages and the situation remains difficult even though the worst of the crisis is behind us.

Now, it appears a similar scenario is playing out and causing disruptions at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton(SJHH).

According to the health care facility, workers are threatening to disrupt hospital staffing and operations by co-ordinating unit-wide sick calls and concerted efforts to refuse overtime.

“These threats of unlawful strike action are inconsistent with St. Joe’s values, and an investigation is underway,” SJHH said.

Even though St. Joe’s current vacancy rate for registered nurses is 14.5 per cent (slightly lower than the 15.5 per cent provincial average), SHJJ is still looking at 251 open positions, despite hiring 831 new full-time nurses over the past year.

“St. Joe’s has undertaken tremendous efforts to address staffing. The staffing situation is not perfect. But it is improving,” the hospital said in a statement.

Despite changes, nurses are still working overtime.

According to SJHH, overtime hours represent about 7 per cent of total hours worked by registered nurses today–down from 9.4 per cent in the summer of 2022.

“Overtime hours have also seen a downward trend for the past six months, but continue to be a concern,” stated SJHH.

“We are grateful to our nurses who have stepped up over and over again to fill in where there are gaps in staffing.”

These shortages also meant that SJHH had to reassign members to different departments to bridge the gap and ensure efficient patient care.

“On an average, 25 healthcare workers are shifting on a monthly basis. This is necessary for hospital operations and patient care, particularly in areas where staffing remains a challenge.”

SJHH offered double pay to staff working overtime to match the high demand. However, this was meant to be a temporary solution and has since been phased out by St. Joe’s as staffing conditions improve.

In a statement to insauga.com, Katherine Russo, Ontario Nurses’ Association’s(ONA) communication officer, said that the ONA is aware of the concerns raised by staff and has reached out to the employer “requesting practical solutions.”

“ONA acknowledges the various problems that affect the working conditions of both its members and other workers in the workplace and the province.”

When asked about the allegations made by SJHH, Russo said the organization “advises that one should be cautious when making conclusions about allegations related to job action while the investigation is ongoing.”

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