NORTH BAY, ON – In their own words North Bay Regional Health Centre (NBRHC) registered practical nurses, cleaners, care aides and other staff flag a culture of management bullying and just plain indifference to their daily struggles at work, in a recent survey conducted by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions-CUPE.

The comment segment of the internal CUPE survey that probed how their members feel about working at NBRHC, round out a picture of an already challenged hospital staff workforce dealing with pandemic burnout, understaffing and low morale.  Workers, some with decades of experience, say everyday at work is discouraging and staff do not feel supported, making one “not want to work there.” The majority of those who responded were predominantly female and between 45 – 64 years of age. More than 58% of them feel more like a number than a person at work.

Last April, CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE) raised serious concerns about the hospital’s conflictual and costly approach to staffing stability and labour relations. CUPE called for more constructive approaches on the part of NBRHC to work to resolve a record number of grievances at the hospital. CUPE conducted the survey following a lack of interest on the part of the hospital administration to engage in solution-based dialogue on the festering labour relations.

“Incredibly, at a time when our hospitals are dealing with unparalleled staff shortages and exhausted staff, that the NBRHC front-line staff who responded to the CUPE survey suggest things are getting worse, not better,” says Hurley. 87% agree or somewhat agree that patient care is compromised due to low staffing levels. Low staffing, they think is also leading to severe workload issues, with 84% of respondents agreeing or somewhat agreeing that workload is part of why there is a recent uptick in the staff turnover rate.

The majority of the respondents were older, which should be of great concern to the hospital, since some of these experienced workers could opt to retire. As more of their coworkers leave their hospital jobs, become ill from pandemic stresses, COVID-19 or now, the flu, those left are beyond overworked, and feel their efforts are unappreciated by management. So, it is a spiral of staff loss, we would think a hospital administration would want to avoid,” Hurley says.

More than 58% report going home from work feeling that there was so much more they could have done for patients if they had time.

“It’s crushing to morale to know you can’t give the level of patient care you want to because of workload. Even more soul destroying is when you don’t feel the hospital you are working for is in your corner. Cut real wages with a 1% wage cap when inflation is at nearly 7% and you have the mass exodus of hospital workers we are now seeing,” says Hurley.

Recently some hospital leaders have come out on why so many front-line hospital staff are leaving and why they are struggling to attract new workers. “Unbelievably, deep hospital cuts are planned for each of the next 6 years. We call on Mr. Fedeli and the provincial government to cancel those cuts and to spend $2 billion of its contingency funds to bring staffing level to the average of the rest of the country. This will address patient care quality issues and help stop the exodus of staff over impossible workloads,” adds Hurley.