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Opinion: Ontario’s registered practical nurses deserve ‘fair compensation’

by Dianne Martin

More than a year has now passed since Ontario first entered a province-wide lockdown. One year that our nurses, and their colleagues in health care, have been fighting tirelessly on the front lines of this pandemic. A fight that has cost, to date, nearly 50 Canadian health-care workers the ultimate price.

We’ve heard stories of the immense devastation this pandemic has caused, particularly in our province’s long-term care homes, and the personal toll it has had on people, families and our front-line health-care workers. A recent WeRPN survey found that 71 per cent of registered practical nurses (RPNs) have experienced a breaking point, with 96 per cent reporting being more stressed and 67 per cent noting they had limited access to mental health supports.

These statistics don’t paint the full picture of the struggles our nurses have faced: nurses whose children are struggling with sleep issues after being away from their parents for prolonged periods; nurses who have slept at work due to staffing shortages; nurses who have faced financial woes – even losing their homes; and some who are struggling with lingering symptoms from long-haul COVID, unable to work. More recently, we have heard of the many nurses who are struggling with post-traumatic stress as a result of the horrific scenes they have witnessed.

It is past time to help ease the burden and sacrifices that so many have faced on the front lines to keep us all safe and cared for. Thanks and well wishes are appreciated but actions speak louder.

To that end, the Ontario government recently announced that it would extend a temporary pay bump for personal support workers (PSWs) that was first announced and implemented in the fall of 2020. Ontario’s RPNs deeply appreciate the help for their PSW colleagues. As nurses, we know better than most the vital role PSWs play in caring for patients, residents, and clients – and how often their tireless work, care and compassion are overlooked and undervalued. This has made it increasingly difficult to retain PSWs in our health system. Every nurse I know believes that PSWs should be compensated fairly for the work they do.

But so should RPNs.

RPNs are knowledge-based health-care professionals who complete a five-semester college diploma and must be registered to practice with the College of Nurses of Ontario, where they are held to the same standards of practice as an RN. There is no doubt that RPNs are working – and living – through the same physically, mentally and emotionally challenging circumstances as their PSW colleagues. RPNs face many of the same workplace challenges: low and stagnant wages, few opportunities for full-time positions, limited benefits and staffing shortages coupled with strenuous workplace demands, to name just a few.

Still, RPNs have shown up every day since this pandemic began. Not because it is their job – but because they are deeply committed to the patients, residents and clients they care for. It’s time for their dedication and efforts to be similarly recognized and supported.

Let me be clear: We support this pay increase for our PSW colleagues, but leaving RPNs out sends the wrong message and leaves RPNs feeling underappreciated and forgotten.

I know the immense personal sacrifice Ontario’s RPNs have made and the heavy personal toll this pandemic has taken on each and every one of them. I have heard their stories – stories of struggles and losses that they will carry with them through their careers and lives.

From day 1 of this pandemic, everyone has applauded nurses as front-line heroes. But our nurses need more than just accolades. They need to be fully recognized and valued for their critical role and the care they provide. And that means fair compensation for all RPNs.

Dianne Martin, RPN, is the CEO of the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario (WeRPN), the voice of the approximately 50,000 registered practical nurses working in Ontario. This piece was posted in Healthy Debate

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