As a second Progressive Conservative government term in office commences, it is urgent that Ontario takes a hard look at the need to improve women’s health and gender equity.
The picture of women’s health is troubling; the last four years have set many women workers back and worsened already gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a registered nurse who worked in a busy emergency department during the pandemic, and now as a regional vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), I can tell you that our health-care system today too often fails women, gender-diverse Ontarians – and all of us.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the Ford government has acted as though the pandemic is behind us. It is not. Ontario’s health-care system is being held together by a nursing workforce that is broken, burnt-out, traumatized and fearful for the well-being of patients.
Ford’s Bill 124 – wage suppression legislation that impacts female-dominated professions such as nursing – worsened the severe nursing shortage at a critical point. That has left thousands of Ontarians with cancelled surgeries and diagnostic procedures, less care for long-term care residents and less access to home and community care.
The Ford government also passed legislation, just before the election call, that takes away the right to pay equity for nurses and health-care professionals.
Growing inequality harms us all and is especially hard on women.
Growing inequality harms us all and is especially hard on women. In the emergency department, we saw an increase in survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. COVID-19 intensified both the reported rate and severity of this violence – and a Toronto-based centre for gendered violence reported a 9,000-per-cent increase in calls for help by December 2021.
Tragically, our underfunded and overcrowded shelter system could not provide a safe place for the women and children who needed help. These injured women and children are all-too-often discharged from hospital with no safe haven to go to.
In the ED, we treated residents of for-profit long-term care homes who suffered immensely due to chronic understaffing and high COVID-19 infection rates, even as company shareholders made record profits. Many of the worst private long-term care chains were rewarded with new 30-year contracts by the Ford government.
Chronic underfunding of health care and working in a global pandemic in a severely understaffed environment has taken an enormous toll on everyone. The Ford government prioritized special interests over the public good. The affluent could access COVID rapid tests – at $300 to $400 each – as Ford made a choice to allow private companies to sell them. This is what stealth privatization of health care looks like.
If we want to ensure an equitable Ontario, we need – more than ever – a government that cares about more than constructing highways and health facilities that we can’t staff. We need the Ford government to truly care about the needs of all people – and recognize the invaluable contributions of the many women workers providing health-care services to the people who live and work here.
As always, as nurses and front-line health-care professionals, we stand ready to share our experience and common-sense solutions to fixing what ails this system. We hope this second-term government is ready to hear what we have to say and act.