Editor's note: The role of the College of Nurses of Ontario was clarified post-publication.
Ontario NDP Health Critic France Gélinas (Nickel Belt) recently spoke out in the legislature to slam "the greedy for-profit nursing agency owners" who are draining the public purse by continuing to contract out high-priced agency nurses to hospitals and long-term care homes by billing "obscene amounts of money".
Gélinas, who along with NDP Long-term Care Critic Wayne Gates (Niagara Falls), has introduced Bill 144, a private members bill to limit spending on health-care staffing agencies. The bill called the Healthcare Staffing Agencies Act, 2023 was introduced in the legislature on October 31, 2023.
Gélinas said she had recently met up with Erin Ariss, the president of the Ontario Nurses Association, who voiced her concerns.
"And I quote: Our publicly funded hospitals and long-term care homes are seeing their budgets drained by these greedy, for-profit nursing agency owners who bill obscene amounts of money," she told the legislature.
Gélinas followed that by asking, "Is the Minister of Health taking any action whatsoever to stop private for-profit nursing agencies from making millions of dollars in profit at the expense of quality of patient care?”
Health Minister Sylvia Jones responded by telling Gélinas that the Ontario government is actually expanding the health-care system for everyone in Ontario.
Jones said Ontario is working to expand the health workforce and that the cost of agency nurses is less than two per cent. She added it was a valuable tool for rural and Northern Ontario to be able to get staffing levels up.
Gélinas quoted a union official who claimed that some agency health-care staff were paid as much as 300-per-cent more than regular hospital staff, which contributes to the human resources crisis. Gélinas asked if the government was planning to take action to stop nursing agencies from lining their pockets at the expense of public health care funding.
Jones told Gélinas that working nurses are regulated by the College of Nurses of Ontario, regardless of who their employer is. "To suggest anything other than that is putting fear in people’s minds, and it is wrong."