1,200 hospital department closures, untold patient suffering: unions call on Doug Ford to enter hospital negotiations and address ongoing crisis

December 7, 2023

OCHU/CUPE, SEIU Healthcare and Unifor say the government must prevent further closures by entering hospital negotiations to invest in frontline staff.

Toronto, Ontario – In response to yesterday’s damning report by the Auditor General and a new report by the Ontario Health Coalition revealing nearly 1,200 Emergency Room and other hospital department shutdowns in 2023, three major hospital unions are demanding the Ford government come to the bargaining table with the funding required negotiate a deal to save public hospitals. Otherwise, they say workers will be forced to take unprecedented action to save public hospitals. After failing to respond to our tri-union request to streamline the bargaining process in an effort to efficiently standardize working conditions for healthcare workers across the province, these new reports make it clear that the government must now enter hospital negotiations and address the ongoing crisis.

OCHU/CUPE, SEIU Healthcare and Unifor, representing more than 70,000 hospital workers in Ontario, say that provincial underfunding has been used as an excuse by the Ontario Hospital Association during current negotiations, saying there is little room to address the decline in working conditions and patient care.

Staffing shortages are causing unprecedented closures of emergency rooms and urgent care centres, according to the Ontario Health Coalition report, while labour leaders are raising the alarm on long surgical waitlists and a record number of patients receiving “hallway health care”.

The tri-union coalition is now demanding the Ontario government and OHA come together to find the much-needed funding to save our hospitals by ensuring safe staffing across all classifications, while implementing nurse-to-patient ratios to bring Ontario in line with other jurisdictions such as British Columbia and California.

Embedding staffing ratios in the contract would go a long way towards improving working conditions in a sector where exhaustion and burnout has led to a 300 per cent increase in job vacancies since 2015. Safe staffing levels will ensure that healthcare workers are supported to delivery the quality patient care they want to provide.

But reversing that trend will require significant investments from a government wedded to austerity and unwilling to alleviate the health human resources crisis, say the unions.

The latest budget estimates for 2023-24 show an effective funding cut for hospitals as they receive merely 0.5 per cent more in base funding from the province. The unions estimate that Ontario needs to invest, after increases to offset inflation, at least $1.25 billion annually for the next five years to stabilize patient care and address recruitment and retention challenges, constituting a 5 per cent annual growth rate.

However, if the government continues to be neglectful, the unions say there is a growing appetite for militancy among their members.


“Our members are distraught and angry. They find it inexcusable that the government is indifferent to the suffering of hospital patients. They don’t understand how Doug Ford can cut funding while ERs are shutting down, while a record number of patients are receiving treatment in hallways, and while children are dying on surgical wait-lists. They have lost faith in this government’s ability to manage public health care, and that’s reflected in the attrition rate. It’s high time for course correction – our unions have tabled reasonable proposals to improve staff-to-patient ratios and the quality of care, and the government must come to the bargaining table and deliver the resources to seriously address the crisis.” – Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), which is negotiating on behalf of 50,000 hospital workers.

“Yesterday, the Auditor General repeatedly and definitively declared that Ontario has no real health human resource strategy. Now, we are asking the Ford government to do the only thing they can do to truly prevent the collapse of our hospitals, and that is to do something they have never done before: come to the bargaining table as a party prepared to fund and fix the abhorrent working conditions and pay that is driving frontline workers out of the public system and driving up wait-times for patients. Taxpayers fund our public education system and therefore the provincial government sits at the bargaining table with teachers. Similarly, we are calling on the provincial government to participate in saving our public hospitals by joining healthcare workers at the bargaining table to address the lack of funding the Ontario Hospital Association blames for worsening hallway healthcare and privatization threats.”  – Sharleen Stewart, President, SEIU Healthcare

“We are deeply concerned about the escalating crisis in our hospitals. The staggering number of department closures is not just a statistic – it’s a clear sign of a system in distress, affecting real lives every day. Our members are at the frontline, witnessing the deteriorating conditions firsthand. Health care workers are overworked, under-resourced, and yet they continue to deliver care with unwavering dedication. It’s time for the Ford government to recognize the urgency of the situation. We need immediate and substantial investment in our healthcare system to ensure safe staffing levels and quality patient care. Unifor remains united with our fellow unions in calling for meaningful negotiations and we are prepared to take decisive action to protect the health and rights of Ontarians,” Kelly-Anne Orr, Assistant to the National Officers