Hamilton nurse says emergency health care 'broken,' after transferring out of department

A Hamilton nurse with 21 years of experience says the emergency health care system is broken and staffing shortages are compounding the issue. Her comments come as Hamilton Health Sciences says it has 700 vacant nursing jobs and 1,500 total unfilled positions.

Hamilton Health Sciences says as of January, it had 700 unfilled nursing jobs

A woman wearing a nurse's intensive care mask.
Rachel Janusc transferred out of the intensive care department in 2022 because she felt overworked. (Submitted by Rachel Janusc)

A Hamilton nurse with 21 years of experience, including 11 years working in intensive care, says the emergency health care system is broken.

Rachel Janusc said the stress of working during the COVID-19 pandemic "just eroded me as a person." 

It also prompted her to transfer out of the intensive care department in 2022. 

"I don't know how to fix this and I don't think that there's any quick way of fixing it," she told CBC Hamilton Friday. "The system's been broken for a while and we've had to make do for a while and it's just not working at all anymore."

Janusc works at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton her entire nursing career. While she changed departments in 2022, she continues to work at the hospital. 

She said the province's wage restraint legislation, combined with what she says is an increase in patient expectations, pushed her over her limit. 

"I just needed a win, so I had to leave the department," she said. "Cause as much as I love critical care nursing, that's what I should be doing for myself."

Janusc said there's a vicious cycle of patients needing more care, nurses unable to tend to all their needs due to under-staffing and, as a result, more patients needing care.

Since the start of the pandemic, Janusc said, anyone who had critical care experience was pulled into the intensive care department due to the high demands there. 

"It started becoming the new normal because with nurses, no matter how short staffed — lacking in equipment or whatever — we always find a way to make it work because nurses are never willing to compromise patient care," she said.

Improve work conditions, pay for sector: Jagmeet Singh

Janusc's comments came the same day NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Hamilton Centre NDP MP Matthew Green met in Hamilton to discuss the challenges facing the health care sector, including the stress nurses are under and the privatization of health care services. 

"Health care workers love their profession but are being burnt out, being overworked and they're not being respected," Singh said during a press conference Friday after a roundtable discussion. "They go into work not knowing how long their shift is going to be."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, wearing a turban and a suit, speaks into a microphone in a hall filled with portraits of politicians.
New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh was in Hamilton Nov. 3 to discuss challenges facing the health care system. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"The first and foremost step we need to do is retain the workers we have, and to do that we need to improve their work conditions and ensure that we improve their pay," Singh said.

Singh also said there are currently 700 unfilled critical nursing jobs at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). Based on Statistics Canada data, the number of vacant nursing jobs in Canada jumped from 5,810 in 2015 to 28,710 in 2022, he added.

700 nursing jobs at HHS remain vacant

HHS communications advisor Wendy Stewart confirmed to CBC Hamilton that as of January, the HHS had more than 1,500 vacant positions, including 700 unfilled nursing positions. In September 2021, there were a total of 750 vacant positions. 

Stewart said retirements contributed to the doubling of unfilled positions. Since April 2022, retirements have increased by nearly 30 per cent, she said, compared to the same period the year before. 

Janusc worries a push to hire more nurses may not help if those nurses are inexperienced. She warned that exposing a younger generation of nurses to the stress of the system too quickly may scare them off. 

"These students are coming out of school and they say 'this is not what I signed up for and I'm leaving,'" she said.

Hiring more internationally trained nurses has also been raised as a solution.

Stewart said that more than 140 people have registered for the Internationally Educated Nurse Integration Program at HHS. The program is funded by the provincial government and runs until 2024. 

"HHS will continue to work with local and regional partners, the Ontario Hospital Association and the government of Ontario to find solutions to the challenges faced by our health system," Stewart said. 

Meanwhile, the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) is also fighting for better work conditions for nurses like Janusc. The ONA began negotiations Jan. 30 for a new contract for hospital nurses, asking for higher wages. 

The nurses, and other broader public sector workers, have been subject for three years to the wage restraint law known as Bill 124, which capped increases at one per cent a year.

"We're looking for respectful wage increases and basically to be able to retain nurses so that we can have the staff there to improve working conditions and improve care for patients," said Bernie Robinson, interim president of the ONA. 


Michael To


Michael To is a reporter with CBC Hamilton. Passionate about food, entertainment, and local culture, while reporting on all topics and beats. Trained and educated actor, versed in multimedia. Contact he/him at: michael.to@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press