Nurses and other allied health care workers gathered in Sudbury on Friday afternoon to stage a public rally calling on the provincial government to commit to improve their working conditions and to then take steps to fund those improvements.
The rally included members of the Ontario Nurses Association, as well as other health care workers, who gathered to wave flags and protest signs despite the brisk wind blowing across the parking area beside the Paris and York Streets intersection. Hundreds of motorists driving by the area honked their horns, apparently in support of the rally.
Two New Democrat MPPs representing the Sudbury region were also on hand at the event. Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas and Sudbury MPP Jamie West took part in the event and spoke to the health-care workers who waved back at the Friday afternoon traffic.
Kristy Johnston, representing Local-2 of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) said the rally also involved ONA Local-13 representing nurses at Health Sciences North, as well as allied health care workers throughout Sudbury, and in Blind River and Elliot Lake.
Johnston said the health care workers in many cases are still working short-staffed and also without enough items of personal protective equipment (PPE) in their workplaces. She said the provincial government headed up by Premier Doug Ford is not living up to its promises.
"We are angry. We are upset. We are disappointed with the Ford government. From day one, they have not listened to what Ontario nurses have had to say about the pandemic. We actually had to go to court to get PPE for frontline workers and there are places in this province that still don't have it.”
Johnston said one of the key concerns for health care workers is that long-term care homes are still not being run as safely and efficiently as they could be.
"Long-term care is a disgrace. It has been a disaster. It's a crisis.” Johnston added there have been so many deaths "that didn't need to happen."
She said Queen's Park has been too slow to implement change even though funding is available.
"The Ford government is sitting on billions of dollars in federal money they haven't used," said Johnston.
She added that the recommendation by the Long-Term Care Commission to have a minimum of four-hours of hands-on care per patient per day needs to happen now, not later.
Johnston said the rally in Sudbury is meant to inspire further rallies and public awareness gatherings across the province.
"Hopefully it will start here. We're asking the MPPs to come out and help us, and hopefully it will roll across the province and people will start to listen," she said.
West told the crowd the demonstrators that Ontario health-care workers had been "let down" by the provincial government.
"With COVID-19, 97 per cent of all funding has come from the federal government. Three per cent has come from the Doug Ford government. Doug Ford is sitting on billions of dollars that you can use, and this is not moving forward," said West.
He said many long-term care workers have been asking to get access to N95 masks, but have been told they will only get masks when they're needed, that being when there is an outbreak.
"That's once an outbreak happens. Once an outbreak happens it is too late," said West.
He added that Queen's Park should have been more generous in providing pandemic pay to a wider spectrum of health-care workers. He mentioned that social workers were just as important in helping COVID patients and their families, but they did not get pandemic pay.
MPP France Gélinas, the opposition health care critic, was also on hand to support the workers.
"I can tell you, I see you, I feel you and I will support you," said Gélinas.
She echoed West's concern about providing more pandemic pay to other workers who are on the frontline, helping to fill out the health care teams that look after COVID-19 patients
"If you don't have a team, you haven't got quality care," said Gélinas.
She said the Ford Conservatives were more interested in making nice announcements and staging photo opportunities.
She added that many of the concerns for long-term care homes will be eliminated once there are enough workers hired, and that those workers are given full-time work with benefits, a pension plan, more generous pay and a workload that a person can reasonably handle.
"And then you don't have a problem anymore," she said.
She said this would improve the situation for hundreds of personal support workers in Sudbury.
Gélinas told the frontline workers she had watched them give their best efforts in the past nine months, but added that the pandemic would "continue to demand an awful lot out of you."
She said in her opinion one of the reasons health care workers are so poorly treated is because the majority of them are women.
With that Gélinas said she was proud of the few dozen workers who showed up for the rally and were willing to speak out.
"People love you. People respect you and people will support you," she said.