BARRIE -- As Covid-19 cases continue to rise, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) says in a release that Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket will be laying off 97 registered nurses.

"I cannot fathom how Southlake Regional Health Centre CEO Arden Krystal can justify cutting frontline registered nurses during a global pandemic," says ONA President Vicki McKenna.

"With the second wave of COVID-19 and the upcoming influenza season, which will put undue pressure on all hospitals, cutting registered nurses is completely irresponsible."

McKenna says the cuts will "devastate the Newmarket community," adding the cuts are widespread and happening at smaller units where patient safety is high.

In a statement, Southlake Regional Health Centre confirms it plans to reduce a total of 95 Registered Nurse positions while adding 49 Registered Practical Nurse positions.

It's also planning to add 29 Patient Services Partner positions and 3 Social Worker positions.

Southlake says the reason for the layoffs is it's "facing a significant financial challenge and has announced a series of changes to address this while maintaining the same high-quality care that we provide to the communities we serve."

Officials with Southlake say the financial troubles predate the pandemic, and given the number of current and potential vacancies, they're hoping to "avoid and involuntary frontline employment loss."

"I would like to know what the "Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, thinks about these disastrous frontline RN cuts as they are happening right within her riding of Newmarket-Aurora,"says ONA President Vicki McKenna.

Southlake is also cutting 34 management and administrative/clerical positions.