NDP introduce legislation to end private nursing agencies in Ontario hospitals, long-term care

The Ontario Opposition NDP wants to improve the quality of health care in the province’s hospitals and long-term care homes by ending private nursing agencies working in the facilities.

NDP health critic and MPP for Nickel Belt France Gélinas and Long-term Care Critic Wayne Gates introduced the Healthcare Staffing Agencies Act 2023 at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.

If passed, the legislation would ensure that every hospital and long-term care home in a community of 8,000 residents or more develops a plan to limit its spending on health care staffing agencies within a timeline of two years.

The bill would forbid health care staffing agencies from paying their workers more than 10 per cent above the existing rate in the workplace and from poaching employees. The legislation would also ensure that all health care staffing agencies established after the act became law would operate as not-for-profits.

A woman standing in a suburban neighbourhood during the fall.
NDP health critic France Gelinas says the province is paying for-profit staffing agencies too much and it’s not sustainable. She says it’s directly affecting staffing levels and quality of care. (Bienvenu Senga/Radio-Canada )

“Payment to private for-profit staffing agencies from our hospitals and long-term care homes have increased exponentially as more and more nurses and allied health professionals are recruited out of their workplaces,” Gélinas said in a press release. 

“Private staffing agencies are making money hand over fist, and it’s draining our health care budgets at an alarming rate.”

Another proponent of the legislation would mandate agencies receiving $400,000 or more to be covered by the auditor general, patient ombudsman and integrity commissioner, and their employees to be included on the Sunshine List.

A man wearing glasses stands outside in front of a large stone building.
Dave Verch is vice-president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, and says it’s unfair that private agency staff get paid up to 300 per cent more than non-agency staff. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

Dave Verch, vice-president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, is calling on the Ford government to end two-tiered staffing in hospitals.

“It’s unfair for workers to get paid vastly different rates for the same work, with agency staff getting paid as much as 300 per cent more,” said Verch. 

“It’s contributing to a staffing crisis with stark consequences for patient care.”

Long-term care critic Wayne Gates said in the news release that the different gaps in pay equity are directly tied to the provincial government’s Bill 124, which limits wage increases for public sector workers to a maximum of one per cent total compensation for each of three years.

He said this is contributing to the frontline staffing crisis in health care and long-term care.

“Now, we see private staffing agencies exploiting that crisis. It’s not sustainable; it’s pulling resources from care, and seniors will ultimately suffer if action isn’t taken against these predatory staffing agencies,” said Gates.

“What these private, for-profit agencies are doing is gouging, plain and simple.”

Improving the quality of care for patients

Gélinas said removing private nursing agencies would also improve the quality of patient care, explaining that quality is directly linked to continuity.

She said nurses and personal support workers who work in a setting for a long time become good at what they do and form relationships with their patients.

Gélinas said private staffing agencies don’t allow continuity of care because there are different people working in a facility every day.

“They come in for a shift or for two, three, four shifts and then they go to another home,” said Gélinas.

“This is not quality care. It affects people’s lives, it affects people’s care.”

Gélinas also explained that different pay scales between nurses and private staff can lead to tensions in the workplace, affecting staff morale and patient care.

The NDP said hospitals and long-term care homes must work with frontline health care workers to find alternative solutions to private nursing agencies. This includes offering better wages and working conditions and more flexible hours for workers.

The province’s response

In a statement to CBC News on behalf of Minister of Health Sylvia Jones, spokesperson Hannah Jensen said, “Through our government’s Your Health plan, we have taken action to grow our healthcare workforce through the Learn and Stay, new As of Right credentials and working with the College of Nurses to break down barriers for internationally educated nurses.”

“As a result, this year is a record-breaking year with 15,000 new nurses registering to work in Ontario and 30,000 nursing students registered in a nursing program at one of Ontario’s Colleges or Universities. Hospitals have always had the ability to use agency nurses. The proportion of agency nurses has decreased from 3.8 per cent in 2017, and remains to be under 2 per cent of the total hours worked in hospitals,” said Jensen.

Jensen said hospitals are independent corporations and the ministry does not have contracts with nursing agencies.

Minister Jones said in question period the province has no intention of removing a “tool that hospitals, long-term care and home and community care service providers, especially in rural communities, use to connect patients to the care they need across the province.”

MPPs at Queen’s Park gave the bill first reading on Tuesday and sent it for a second reading at a later date.

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