The temp agency system is a huge financial burden for Ontario hospitals

‘It’s going to bankrupt health care’: Spending on temp agency nurses up more than 550% since pre-pandemic at one Toronto hospital network

More than three years after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ontario hospitals are still working out the costs of keeping doctors and nurses on the job amid staffing shortages.

“I think we’ve been able to save a lot of money in terms of salary by having an administrative staff that is able to pay, which hasn’t been available because there’s been no one,” said Dr. Gary Leib, president of the Ontario Medical Association, adding that the OMA is currently meeting with the unions representing the hospital executives on cost of staffing issues.

“It’s just gone up so much, so rapidly,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s much anyone can do.”

In the first two months of 2019, Ontario health-care system spending on temp agency nurses and support staff more than doubled at Toronto Western Hospital after it was hit with a temporary hiring blitz of nurses and support staff just 18 months earlier. In the same period, staffing spending at Toronto General Hospital tripled and costs at Queen’s Park’s Hamilton Health Sciences Centre more than tripled.

The temp agency system for staffing and administrative staff in Ontario is supposed to be a temporary way to ensure workers can keep a roof over their heads during the pandemic.

But in the age of COVID-19, when the world is already in an unprecedented lockdown, the system has become a huge financial burden for hospitals, which are struggling to keep their frontline physicians and nurses at work.

In April, Toronto Western Hospital system announced it was short staff of temporary nurses, clerical and other support workers. Staffing was “at high risk,” according to a May 6 news release from city councillor Frances Nunziata’s office.

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