Straight Talk: Vera’s last day after 19 years at The Scarborough Hospital

Vera Tsotsos is a ward clerk at The Scarborough Hospital. After 19 years on the job she received notice in the spring that her full-time position would be eliminated. Her last day is today. “I would not recommend my job to my daughter or my granddaughter,” says Tsotsos, who sees the damage done by the constant insecurity her colleagues face.

While she could have likely moved into another opening at the hospital, she chose to leave instead. “I had enough,” Tsotsos told us.

Hospital support workers require considerable skill and training to do their jobs effectively. Yet they are often the first to be let go when money gets tight. Ontario hospitals are shedding jobs to balance years of zero-based funding from the provincial government. In the process, they are also sending years of valuable experience out the door.

It’s time that the OHA and the Ontario government come clean and reveal the real cost of their austerity agenda.

In the coming weeks we will be highlighting some “straight talk” from OPSEU’s hospital support workers that features the work they do and the challenges they face doing their best to serve the public. The first series of vignettes was shot at OPSEU’s annual convention in May.

Former health services chief says privatization among reasons Alberta health costs so high

Stephen Duckett, the former CEO of Alberta Health Services, says privatization is among the reasons why Alberta's health costs are so high.

Stephen Duckett, the former CEO of Alberta Health Services, says privatization is among the reasons why Alberta’s health costs are so high.

The former head of Alberta Health Services says there are several reasons why Alberta consistently has the highest health costs and worst outcomes in Canada: provincial wealth, politics and privatization.

Stephen Duckett, speaking September 17 in Toronto at Longwood’s Breakfast With The Chiefs, was President and CEO of Alberta Health Services from 2009-10.

An Australian economist who still lives in Alberta, Duckett says that he inherited a situation where cataracts were outsourced in Calgary and Edmonton. The “unusual” method of tendering these contracts encouraged providers to bid high. Instead of giving contracts to the low bidder, Alberta Health Services took all the bids, set a uniform price by averaging the costs in the tenders, then made “everyone a winner” by contracting the service to all of the submitting companies.

When the private Health Resource Centre (HRC) was facing bankruptcy, Duckett says he was encouraged to find a way to help them out of their financial troubles. When he looked at the cost of publicly funded procedures performed by the bankrupt HRC, he realized that public hospitals were doing the same orthopaedic work for considerably less. For a hip arthroplasty, for example, the cost was $486 more per procedure at the private provider, $1,814 more for a foot and ankle procedure.

Similarly, Duckett was in office when Calgary workers took the unprecedented step of mounting a class action lawsuit against a Telus subsidiary which had been given a contract to do payroll for the former Calgary Health Region. The employees claimed to have been underpaid, found mistakes on their T-4 slips, and problems in vacation calculation.

Continue reading

Video: The millionaire CEO vs. the $12.88/hour home support worker

Striking home care workers from Renfrew County were told yesterday by hired security guards that there was no one at Extendicare’s Markham headquarters to meet with them — not even their millionaire CEO. It appears the executives fled in the face of their own employees.

The company had tried to get OPSEU to cancel the picket the day before, pledging to return to the bargaining table later this week.

The Renfrew County women had travelled a round trip of more than 1,000 kilometres to face down the executives who have been proposing extending their wage freeze to five years as well as make other changes that will adversely affect their worklife. Some have starting wages as low as $12.88 per hour. The workers are employees of ParaMed Home Health Care, a subsidiary of Extendicare.

They were supported on the picket line Tuesday by OPSEU activists and board.

To watch the video, click on the window above.


Former Infoway boss frustrated by slow implementation of health care IT

Photograph of former Canada Health Infoway CEO Richard Alvarez at Breakfast With the Chiefs.

Richard Alvarez, former President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, says slow pace of change among low-lights of his 10-years on the job.

When it comes to information technology, many Ontario medical practices are still more “Leave It To Beaver” than “Jetsons.” In that respect, Canada is falling behind other developed countries in integrating health care through new technologies.

Richard Alvarez, the recently departed President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway has many regrets over what he has been able to achieve after 10 years at the helm of the agency charged with coordinating federal and provincial investment in health care innovation and information technology.

Speaking at Longwood’s “Breakfast With The Chiefs” last week, Alvarez remained careful about his choice of words before a room full of the health sector’s leading decision-makers.

He needn’t have bothered.
Continue reading

Low wages and benefits makes interprofessional primary care a hard sell

Stock photo of a nurse with a tablet used to illustrate a shortage of nurse practitioners and other professionals in the pimary care sector.

Family Health Teams and other interprofessional primary care providers are having difficulty retaining and recruiting health professionals due to poor compensation. One in five nurse practitioner positions are vacant according to a report issued last year.

The Ontario government would like every dollar of funding increase to be used to increase the volume of care. In their world, nothing would go to the increased cost of wages, benefits, drugs, energy, equipment, or any other cost pressure that health providers regularly experience.

We are told there is money for volumes, but nothing for base budgets.

While simplistically laudable, it’s not realistic and may be doing harm to the sectors the Wynne government wants to transition more of the health system.

Last year three organizations representing all of Ontario’s interprofessional primary care organizations quietly submitted a report to the Ministry of Health highlighting how the compensation structure for their sector is driving away the professionals they need.

It’s the same low wage strategy that personal support workers have been trapped in, creating high levels of turnover and undermining continuity of care. The big difference is there isn’t a large pool of professionals to continually draw from, leaving significant vacancies.

Continue reading

ParaMed Strike: Are Canadian workers paying the price for Extendicare’s U.S. losses?

Photograph of striking Renfrew County home care workers and their supporters picket outside of ParaMed's Ottawa office on Monday.

Striking Renfrew County home care workers and their supporters picket outside of ParaMed’s Ottawa office on Monday.

As privatization creeps further into Canada’s health system it’s fair to ask whether decisions are being made based on private profit or health care needs?

As contract health providers become multinational, the interests of Canadian patients may also take a back seat to corporate priorities in other countries.

Extendicare is a Markham-based for-profit company that operates on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. About 37 per cent of its revenue comes from the company’s operations in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. CEO Timothy Lukenda lives in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, not far from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee. His father is a well-known dentist in the Sault and owns the junior hockey franchise in that city. Prior to getting the top job at Extendicare, Lukenda was an investment banker.

Extendicare’s business involves assisted living centers, nursing homes, health technology services, outpatient therapy and home health care. Overall they have 35,000 employees, making them one of the largest private long-term care providers in North America.

Extendicare’s home care subsidiary, ParaMed Home Health Care, is presently involved in a bitter strike in Renfrew County, northwest of Ottawa.

It’s fair to ask whether the hard-line ParaMed is taking at the bargaining table is motivated by priorities on the other side of the border?

Continue reading

Some employers balk at mandatory PSW wage increase

PSWs are among 110 striking ParaMed Home Health Care workers in Renfrew County. The government gives, the agency takes away.

PSWs are among 110 striking ParaMed Home Health Care workers in Renfrew County. The government gives, the agency takes away.

In the wake of the Red Cross Care Partners strike last December, it was clear the province needed to quickly improve the working lives of its personal support workers. Home and community care agencies were losing significant numbers of staff due to poor compensation prevalent in the sector. The government’s austerity agenda was only making the situation worse.

The result was the Ministry’s Personal Support Worker Workforce Stabilization Strategy which includes the much talked about $1.50 an hour wage increase retroactive to April 1, 2014.

Now some employers are actually balking at the funding the government is flowing to them for the purposes of improving PSW wages, including the March of Dimes which already bruised its public image after locking out 30 Oakville workers last fall.

The reason has to do with employer payroll costs and a flattening of wage structures.

Continue reading