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Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario To The Ontario Nurses' Association

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Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario To The Ontario Nurses' Association

Check Against Delivery

Office of the Premier

I want to congratulate what we might call the head nurse -- your president Linda Haslem-Stroud -- on her new term. I know, Linda, that you will do a great job, and I look forward to working with you, on behalf of the patients and people of Ontario. You've already shown yourself to be a strong, persuasive advocate for nurses and for a better health care system.

I also want to thank each of you -- the local representatives from communities across Ontario -- for the work you do. Together, you're giving 48,000 registered nurses and allied health professionals across the province a stronger voice.

Our government is listening.

Today, I want to tell you how we're going to work with you to make real, positive change happen.

But first, I want to thank you for the work you and your members do, every day, right across the province. You put in long, irregular hours, often at several hospitals, sacrificing time with your own family to give care and comfort to others. You -- Ontario's nurses -- are the heart and soul of the health care system.

Unfortunately, the foundations of the nursing profession have been chipped away over the years.

It's hard to believe -- at least for people outside the health care system -- but only 55 per cent of nurses in hospitals have full-time jobs. Meanwhile, nurses put in 2.7 million hours of overtime in Ontario hospitals. This doesn't make a lot sense for nurses, for patients or for hospitals. Especially when you consider that hospitals purchased two million hours of expensive services from nursing agencies -- sometimes at triple-time rates.

On top of all that, nurses are at a high risk of workplace illness or injury.

In 2002, nurses filed almost 1,500 claims to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. You lost over 52,000 days of work at a cost of $5.1 million. What a terrible waste, when your expertise is needed, and when we face a nursing shortage.

That's why our government is delivering real, positive change in health care -- for nurses and for patients. We're working with nurses to rebuild the foundations of the profession.

One of the first steps towards tackling the nursing shortage is to improve working conditions for the nurses we have now. It's the only way we're going to attract and retain the number of nurses we need.

To do this, our government is making important, strategic investments.

We've recently committed $14 million to purchase safety equipment in our hospitals. It will help buy things like ceiling-mounted bed lifts to help create a safer workplace for nurses.

In addition, our government is also targeting $50 million in hospital funding to create full-time nursing positions and improve working conditions for nurses. The goal is to have 70 per cent of registered nurses in Ontario with full-time jobs. This funding will help hospitals reach that goal.

This funding will also buy equipment and supplies to make your job safer. It will promote continuing education and professional development opportunities. It will enhance nursing support roles such as nursing educators and nursing managers.

Now, I know that previous governments made funding announcements that made big headlines -- but made little difference for you working on the front lines. They announced money that might have gone to the hospitals' bottom line -- instead of the front lines. We're taking a different approach.

We are working to make health care more responsible to patients and more accountable to taxpayers. We are tying funding to specific results that Ontarians want and need. Hospitals must reach targets for creating full-time nursing positions or they will lose their share of the funding. And future funding will be tied to measurable results -- spelled out in written performance agreements.

We are delivering real, positive change.

You see, our real bottom line is improved patient care -- not politics, not headlines, not politics-as-usual.

And we simply cannot improve patient care without you. Nurses can make Ontario's health care system work better. That's why we're going to make the system work better for nurses.

Nurses help people recovering in hospital to get well and get on with their lives. Their advice and support help keep new mothers and their babies in good health. Nurses are also in long-term care centres, helping our parents and grandparents live their final years with comfort and with dignity. People are reassured when they receive consistent care from familiar faces.

This is an element of nursing that our health care system has lost, but needs to regain. Nursing is a vocation -- one that we need to value and help grow. We've got to retain the many dedicated nurses working hard in our health care system.

I'm sure many of you know of nurses who've left for other jurisdictions, but want to return to Ontario. We need to give them a reason to come back. We've got to rebuild the profession in Ontario. We've got to show them their skills are valued and their need for stability will be respected.

Right now, there's a new generation of nurses in our post-secondary institutions. We've got to make sure they have opportunities to build fulfilling, rewarding nursing careers -- right here in Ontario.

Yes, we face challenges, including the deficit we've inherited.

But that challenge is also an opportunity to make sure what we do as a government is truly focused on the priorities that we ran on, and that Ontarians voted for. One of those priorities is ensuring we have healthier Ontarians in a healthier Ontario. That's why we're focused on real, tangible, measurable results.

And we are delivering real, positive change.

I ask you to work with us. We need your faith, your patience, your honest advice. All the changes we both want can't happen overnight. But together, we can make them happen. Together, we can create opportunities for nurses to build rewarding careers. Together, we can ensure patients get the care they want and deserve.

We can build a health care system that makes us all proud. We can build the Ontario that's the envy of the world. With a quality of life that's second to none.

Thank you.

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