‘We haven’t seen the worst yet’: ICU nurse says Ontario desperately needs paid sick days

TORONTO — A critical care nurse in the Toronto area made a desperate plea for the Ford government to bring in paid sick leave, saying hospitals will not be able to cope unless more is done to help essential workers stay home when they are sick.

“A lot of people don’t have paid sick days and they will go into to work sick,” Birgit Umaigba told CP24. “(People) have to be able to care for themselves and their loved ones – that’s why we have seen a high transmission rate.”

Umaigba, who is also a college instructor in nursing, told CP24 she has had to self-isolate twice due to possible COVID-19 exposures at work, time for which she was not paid.

“The people going to work (sick) are going to spread the disease. We’re going to see people flooding the ICUs.”

“We don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the workforce to care for these people.”

As of Monday, local public health units reported there were more than 2,400 people in hospitals across Ontario due to COVID-19, approximately 700 more than the peak of the second wave and effectively double that of the first wave.

Facing continued increases in the number of COVID-19 patients needing hospital help, the Ford government has enacted a raft of measures, and is now receiving federal healthcare workers and additional emergency shipments of the required drugs for COVID-19 treatment.

An analysis conducted by Peel Public Health in the fall of 2020, before more highly transmissible variants of concern had been formally detected in Ontario, found 2,000 instances of workers who later tested positive for COVID-19 reporting to work while sick.

Umaigba said if she could get Premier Doug Ford’s ear, she would implore him to shut down more workplaces and vaccinate education workers.

“I would like to tell the premier that nurses need to be vaccinated – EAs and teachers need to be vaccinated and absolutely if necessary close the warehouses to only those that serve essential purposes.”

The NDP again introduced a motion for paid sick leave in the legislature on Monday, as the opposition has several times in the past year, and the Ford government voted it down.

A spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford said the government continues to refer workers to the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, which pays workers $500 per week for up to four weeks, saying any issues associated with it, such as the fact that workers must apply and wait to be reimbursed later while at home, should be addressed by the federal government.

“For months now, Ontario has been advocating for improvements to the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. When workers are ill or worried they may have COVID, they need to know that they have immediate access to this program,” Ivana Yelich told CTV News Toronto. “They can’t wait days.”

“We have every expectation that these improvements will be included in today’s federal budget.”

Ontario had some employer-paid sick leave in 2018, but it was among one of the first things axed by the incoming Ford government.

Without paid sick time, Umaigba said the current situation in GTA hospitals will get even worse.

“We don’t have the human capacity to look after to these people who are coming in. We haven’t seen the worst yet, it’s going to get worse than this.”

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