Ontario’s incentive plan raises concerns among health care workers

Apr 1, 2022 | News

For Carina Nguyen, the Ontario government’s plan of incentivizing nurses makes her think twice about her taking on a career in the field.

“Obviously I still want to finish and get my degree and see how it is but I wonder if, like, I will stay in nursing when I’m in it,” Nguyen said.

The Ontario government announced on March 7 a $5,000 incentive for nurses who have been working throughout the pandemic. Full-time nurses who worked will receive the amount in one payment and casual nurses will receive the payment in two installments.

Nguyen, 21, is a third-year nursing student at X University. She has been focused on becoming a registered nurse ever since she graduated from high school. However, the pandemic changed her perspective on how she views the health care industry as she was a clinical extern in the past summer.

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“I got to see how hard nurses work and the dawning of PPE,” Nguyen said. “If it’s already so tough now, how will it be when I’m actually in their position?”

The Ontario government’s website outlined who will receive the incentive.

Nurses eligible to receive the payment include nurses in hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes, home and community care, primary care, mental health and addictions, emergency services, and corrections, as well as range of other community based and developmental services including youth justice,” the government said.

Dianne Martin, chief executive officer for the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario (WeRPN), said she doesn’t see the incentive help retain nurses.

“The nurses in Ontario are facing a very different reality,” Martin said.

Martin highlights Bill 124 and says that because of the legislation RPNs are limited to a one per cent wage increase, which is below the cost of living increases.

Bill 124, was legislation that was adopted in 2019. It enforces wage limits in the public sector where a one per cent increase is added to an employee’s pay during a 12-month period.

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Martin said nurses have had to adapt to the challenging changes which sparred because of the pandemic which includes work overload, personal risk, and a shortage of staff.

“Whenever there’s a shortage, prices go up. And right now, nurses are very marketable,” Martin said.

She said the incentive is taxable and only given to the nurses once. And because this incentive is a one-time payment, it does not cover the expenses made throughout the pandemic. It also doesn’t reflect the increases in the cost of living.

“So if we’re talking about an initiative to retain people, and to retain nurses in the system, I don’t see how this has any ability to retain people,” Martin said.

But for Jada Aquino, the Ontario government’s plan of the $5,000 incentive was beneficial for her time working during the pandemic as a personal support worker.

Aquino, 20, is a personal support worker and a third-year nursing student at George Brown College. She has been supporting an 85-year-old man with dementia during the pandemic and has been working diligently in his home to keep him healthy.

“I currently work as a privately owned PSW, I was hired by the family and I love it because I created such a bond with them,” Aquino said.

She said the government is doing an adequate job of incentivizing personal support workers because they are in high demand, and “$5,000 for six months is perfectly fine with me.”

While being a full-time student and a personal support worker Aquino tries to balance out her schedule to spend time with her family.

“Sunday’s I go to church with my family, because to me it’s not a day of work, its a day for rest,” she said.

As these nurses are dealing with the pandemic it’s easy to call them “heroes.” However, Martin says otherwise.

“We are just people and we don’t have any extra powers to deal with the horrible situations than anyone else does. So I sometimes say, maybe we’re not heroes, maybe we’re just trying people trying to do our jobs,” Martin said.