Looking into the Past and Seeing the Future

Ah, remember the glory days of the ’90s? Rae Days, Mike Harris (God love him, did you hear he can tolerate natural light now?) comparing nurses to hula hoops, “restructuring”, massive Tory health care cuts, nursing lay-offs, the Hospital for Sick Children cynically firing experienced diploma nurses to save money, Toronto General forbidding “RN” on ID tags, nurses fleeing to the U.S. by the thousands, looking for work?

Mike Harris, Friend of All Nurses

Good times. And it worked out so well for everyone.

And now we have this:

Canada is in danger of losing huge numbers of nurses to other countries as provincial governments struggle to slash deficits by freezing or cutting their jobs, nursing advocates say.

“We are very concerned that nurses are actually going to the (United) States,” said Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the Ontario Nurses Association. “The States have many recruiters up here on a monthly basis.”

Health experts warn Canada could face a repeat of the 1990s, when health-care cuts by the provinces drove as many as 27,000 nurses to the U.S. alone to look for work. “The ’90s were quite bleak,” said Patrick O’Byrne, assistant professor in the faculty of health sciences’ school of nursing at the University of Ottawa.

Bleak isn’t the word for it. The ’90s nearly killed nursing as a viable profession in Ontario. No, let me rephrase that. Inept and/or openly hostile politicians nearly killed the nursing profession in the ’90s. Nurses, instead of being the vital and professional centre of quality health care, were suddenly a “problem” in human resource management and a drain on the system, and an easy and convenient political target.  We were demeaned and degraded as professionals. As one of my colleagues told me recently, “The hospitals and the government treated us like meat.”

Dalton McGuinty, Friend of All Nurses?

The effect of slashing and burning nurses in the ’90s cannot be underestimated. The result was the devaluation of nursing as a profession and which concomitantly impaired the recruitment and education of new nurses, contributing to the present nursing shortage, and bred cynicism and negativity among nurses themselves which in turn unavoidably impacted patient care. Nurses left the profession in droves, and more fled to the U.S. And left, I think, an entire generation of nurses psychologically and emotionally damaged. It was, in short, a disaster

I think (I hope) attitudes have changed somewhat, and perhaps the hideous policy choices of the ’90s can be avoided. Especially in light of the now-overwhelming evidence linking patient outcomes to appropriate and well-funded nursing care.


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