For ParaMed Tuesday’s impending Renfrew strike is just business

Photograph of demonstration outside of ParaMed's Ottawa offices. Support came from across the region as ParaMed's Renfrew workers travelled to Ottawa to picket the company's offices. The workers will almost certainly be on strike next Tuesday.

Support came from across the region Wednesday as ParaMed’s Renfrew workers travelled to Ottawa to picket the company’s offices on Hunt Club Road. The workers will almost certainly be on strike next Tuesday.

Wednesday Renfrew County workers for ParaMed Home Health Care held a surprise picket outside the company’s Ottawa offices supported by a number of regional labour activists.

ParaMed has expressed remarkable indifference to an imminent strike that will sideline 140 nursing and home support workers in the region. Most of these workers are low-wage women.

The company has sent many mixed messages to these workers.

They say they want a deal, but refuse to offer any more bargaining dates until three days into a strike. That makes any last minute agreement to avert disruption to service impossible.

They say that in the event of a strike referrals will go to other home care agencies, but then irresponsibly tell workers that they can cross the picket line if they should choose to continue working.

They have also suggested they may shut down permanently.
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Elopement poses urgent questions about Waypoint’s new $474 million building

Photograph of the fences scaled by a maximum security patient August 23 at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.

Fences scaled by a maximum security patient August 23 at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.

A new building is often seen as a solution for the updated delivery of health care.

It’s true they usually reduce energy costs. If designed correctly and collaboratively, they can also contribute to higher operational efficiency.

Ontario invested heavily in new hospital buildings under former Premier Dalton McGuinty. At one point we counted about 100 major hospital infrastructure projects in the works – about a third developed as public-private partnerships.

Many of these buildings are now open or will be shortly. After moving in, administrators and staff are discovering the shortcomings that often aren’t evident in the planning stage.

One of them is Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene. Waypoint moved both medium and maximum security units into its new $474 million building in May.

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Home Care: Giving and taking away

Photograph of ParaMed staff picketing outside of their Pembroke offices in July. 140 Renfrew County home care workers could be on strike as soon as September 2.

ParaMed staff picket outside their Pembroke office in July. 140 Renfrew County home care workers could be on strike as soon as September 2.

The government gives, the home care agencies take away.

Many of OPSEU’s home care agencies are presently at the bargaining table.

You’d think this would be the best of times for the professional and support staff that conducts the often difficult work of caring for Ontario’s homebound frail and elderly. Retaining this group of workers is also important to government bean counters who can add up the cost of lengthy stays in hospital by alternative level of care patients waiting for home care access.

Clearly of all sectors, home care has also become central to the government’s strategy to migrate services into the community.

So why can’t they get it right?

Ontario did recognize there is a significant problem with recruitment and retention in home care, taking what appeared to be a bold step towards increasing specific funding for the sector’s personal support workers (PSWs). PSWs delivered 72.3 per cent of all home care visits in 2012/13 and that percentage is growing as visits by licensed health professionals (nurses, dietitians, social workers and therapists) have been in decline over the past decade.

As we noted yesterday, the turnover is so high among home care PSWs that often the entire staff of an agency can change in less than two years.

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Two-thirds of Ontario PSWs excluded from wage adjustment

Photograph of former Health Minister Deb Matthews with Finance Minister Charles Sousa announcing the breakthrough increase for PSWs in April.

Former Health Minister Deb Matthews with Finance Minister Charles Sousa announcing the breakthrough increase for PSWs in April. (Photo: Ontario Government).

It was clear from the start that the much applauded increase for Ontario’s Personal Support Workers was not going to apply to all.

Back in April the government noted that “more than 34,000 of Ontario’s PSWs deliver care, assistance and support to seniors and other people with complex care needs in their own homes and communities.”

That was the target group for Ontario’s new funding aimed at bringing stability to a workforce that was turning over every two years or less. Given the emphasis on continuity of care as a measure of quality, this high level of turnover was evidence of colossal failure the Wynne government couldn’t ignore.

These 34,000 represent only about a third of the PSWs in the province. That means for two-thirds, there will be no additional adjustment outside of their existing collective agreement or individual non-union contract.

Only these 34,000 PSWs will receive the $1.50 an hour increase retroactive to April 1st of this year. Those wage adjustments and retroactive pay are expected in September.

The government has committed to increase the hourly rate for this group by a total of $4 an hour by April 1, 2016. By 2016 the new minimum wage for PSWs will be $16.50/hour.

Given the scope of the plan issued in April, it was no surprise that PSWs working in hospitals and long-term care homes would be excluded by the government from this new funding.

What is surprising is news that the government has arbitrarily excluded a significant group of PSWs who do work within the home and community sector. According to a brief released by CUPE, the government is denying the same increase to those who exclusively provide homemaking and work in community mental health/supportive housing. Earlier descriptions suggested these PSWs would likely be in the target group.

In some cases, these excluded workers are often employed by the same agencies that will be passing on increases to their colleagues who provide personal care.

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One helluva story

Photograph of Glenn French, President and CEO of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence.

Glenn French, President and CEO of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence.

Glenn French has a helluva story to tell.

The President and CEO of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace violence provided the keynote speech after two days of meetings by OPSEU’s Mental Health Division.

He spoke about a cleaner in a long-term residential facility in Newfoundland.

The man was well-liked and enjoyed his work.

One day he was struck with a lamp by a resident in a senseless act of violence.

While his colleagues quickly attended to the perpetrator of the act, nobody attended to the cleaner, who took himself off to what he perceived would be a safe place. It was an hour before anyone had thought to give any attention to the victim.

French says that when violence happens in the workplace it has a ripple effect, like a stone being thrown into a pond.

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Mental Health: No easy answers, but there are still answers

Photograph of Nancy Casselman, TEGH's Director of Human Resources and Organizational Quality, Safety and Wellness.

Nancy Casselman, TEGH’s Director of Human Resources and Organizational Quality, Safety and Wellness.

There are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers.

We’ve been meeting in downtown Toronto to try and tackle the issues behind the injuries front line professional and support staff are sustaining by simply going to work to help others recover from or cope with a mental illness.

We know that individuals with a mental illness are no more likely to physically and verbally strike out than anyone else.

The evidence is clear — this is not even a debate.

Queen’s University professor Dr. Heather Stuart pointed out that only three per cent of violent crimes are committed by individuals with a serious mental illness. There’s another seven per cent committed by those with addictions.

Yet in popular culture that perception is much greater. Stuart points out that in the world of popular fiction that rate is closer to 20 per cent. When one in five violent crimes are committed on TV by fictional mentally ill people, what does that tell us? How does that shape our view?

Academics, clinicians, and other experts – including our own members – have been spending the past day trying to solve the riddle poised by the very real injuries these front line workers are sustaining. On paper this is not supposed to happen – at least not to this extent.

Nor is it exclusive to this one corner of health care.

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The day after: health care issues still smoldering

There’s got to be a morning after.

Tim Hudak has announced he is stepping down and the Kathleen Wynne Liberals now have a majority parliament.

So what happens now?

There are several outstanding issues in health care.

The first is the fate of the Local Health Integration Networks. The standing committee charged with conducting the legislated review travelled the province holding hearings over the winter. Despite Tim Hudak’s promise to replace them with “health hubs,” there was little interest in the issue on the campaign trail. The likely result will be some minor tinkering and they will soldier on. After eight years the LHINs appear to have found their legs although clearly there are still some community members who feel left out of the process. Last year’s five per cent cut to their budgets likely didn’t help the LHINs connect with those communities.

We’ve noticed that despite a province-wide Ontario Health Coalition campaign opposing the siphoning off of hospital services to private clinics, the province is moving forward with competitions to auction cataract surgeries, endoscopies and other diagnostic services. The Windsor Regional Hospital is already in one of these competitions with the private MyHealth Vision Care. MyHealth manages 16 Independent Health Facilities in Ontario and say they are developing 18 more. The hospital is the midst of capital planning for a new outpatient facility. Being caught in these kind of arbitrary competitions makes it difficult to plan. CEO David Musyj told the Windsor Star that the cataract decision will have an effect on the entire health system. “We don’t want to do something prematurely that negatively impacts what we’re trying to create into the future for the community.” The Wynne government could find themselves in a considerable battle over this issue. The Ontario Health Coalition have collected nearly 100,000 postcards from Ontarians who don’t want to see private clinics take over this work. They plan to present the postcards to Queen’s Park soon.

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