Action: Lives of four busloads of Canadian youth at stake in Federal budget

Jeff Moat, CEO of Partners for Mental Health, at OPSEU Tuesday.

Jeff Moat, CEO of Partners for Mental Health, at OPSEU Tuesday.

The change in fortune for the federal government is making Jeff Moat very nervous.

The CEO of Partners for Mental Health, Moat has been lobbying federal MPs to support a five-year $100 million project to pilot a youth suicide prevention program that has already shown impressive results in Europe. In Canada three times as many youth (15-24) die from suicide than by all forms of cancer.

Moat says MPs have been very receptive to the proposal, but a drop in government revenues from falling oil prices likely means the Partners will have to demonstrate significant public support to keep it in this year’s budget.

Normally delivered in February, Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver recently announced he was pushing the budget back to April or later to deal with the current economic instability brought on by falling energy prices. That has prompted fears that the Harper government is taking a chainsaw to the supports Canadians need in order to keep the Prime Minister’s promise of a balanced budget.

The proposal the Partners have brought to the federal government is based on one piloted by the Nuremburg Alliance in Germany that reduced youth suicide by a staggering 24 per cent. That initiative takes a whole community approach to suicide prevention, giving everyone a role from mental health and child welfare professionals to police, teachers and the media.

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Heading for the courts, CAMH’s Zahn can’t sweep workplace safety under the rug

Photograph of person sweeping two post-it notes under a rug. One says Workplace, the other violence.

It’s time CAMH CEO Katherine Zahn addressed the issue of workplace violence rather than sweep it under the rug. Photo: http://www.canstock.com

You have to wonder about Katherine Zahn.

Not much has been going right lately for the CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Data shows incidents of workplace violence are dramatically up. The workforce is upset about threats to their personal safety and injuries are starting to become routine fodder for joint press releases between OPSEU and the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA). The Ministry of Labour has recently charged the hospital with violations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OH&SA) — the second time in five years. The unions representing the injured workers are clamouring for an urgent meeting. And to put the cherry on the top, the Toronto Star is presently on a campaign to tighten the rules around privacy violations, using CAMH as an example where 22 patient records were inappropriately accessed.

So what do you do if you are Zahn?

Instead of agreeing to meet with the unions, Zahn sent out an e-mail to all staff defending a record of workplace safety that is clearly failing and telling everyone how “disappointed” she is by “inflammatory language” of the union’s press releases. She tries to divide the unions from their membership by suggesting they are “diminishing the excellent work that is being done by their local members.”

There were 118 incidents that resulted in harm last year at CAMH and Zahn wants to talk about language in a press release.

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Royal Ottawa and CAMH face new prosecutions for unsafe workplaces

Photograph of the exterior of the Royal Ottawa Centre for Mental Health.

Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

It’s not every day that a major Ontario psychiatric hospital is placed on trial, much less two.

Health care workers across the province will be closely watching the outcome of an ongoing trial following charges against the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Royal unsuccessfully sought a stay of proceedings, arguing that testimony could be tainted by recent media coverage. The Ottawa Citizen reports that Justice of the Peace John Doran rejected the hospital’s arguments, noting that witness statements obtained before the trial would serve as a “baseline” of evidence.

As the trial got underway in December new charges were laid against the Royal Ottawa following an alleged stabbing of a nurse by a patient in October at the hospital’s Brockville site. The stabbing narrowly missed her carotid artery.

Following the attack, the Ontario Nurses’ Association applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for an Interim Order to place trained security guards on the unit where the alleged assault took place. ONA represents registered nurses at the Royal. The OLRB responded November 26 issuing an order to provide 24/7 security on the unit – an order the hospital has yet to comply with.

Representing two bargaining units at the Royal Ottawa’s Brockville site, OPSEU is seeking intervener status on this new case despite opposition from the hospital’s legal counsel.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was also charged under the same Act in December — about a week after OPSEU and ONA issued a joint press release calling for action following an alleged January 2014 assault that left a registered practical nurse beaten beyond recognition. Both the OPSEU RPN and the ONA nurse who came to her assistance have been off work since the incident.

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Mental health centres must reduce risk to staff and patients

Local 500 President Nancy Pridham during a 2008 press conference addressing assaults at the Toronto hospital. Six years later the same problems persist with the union calling on the Ministry of Labour to charge the employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Local 500 President Nancy Pridham during an October 2008 press conference addressing assaults at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Six years later the same problems persist with the union calling on the Ministry of Labour to charge the employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Client Empowerment Council at Ottawa’s psychiatric hospital say they became advocates for the safety of the care team because a “safe place for staff members increased patient safety as well.”

In a statement issued by The Royal November 26, mental health advocate Claude Lurette spoke about his own regret at lashing out at others while a patient at the hospital. “It wasn’t until I became solid in my own recovery of living with bi-polar disorder that I came to understand that the best thing I can do is to own my behaviour and learn what I need to learn in order to minimize the chances of it happening again,” he writes. “It is hard to find the words to express how much I appreciate the nurses and other staff who took care of me even when my behaviour was unpredictable.”

The Royal was publicly responding to the court proceedings following charges laid against the hospital under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In the alleged incident a patient choked and assaulted two nurses and a support worker in the Royal’s Recovery Unit.

The Royal faces numerous charges around failing to take reasonable precautions to protect worker safety.

Their woes may not be entirely over with these court proceedings. In October, a nurse at the Royal’s Brockville site was allegedly stabbed multiple times in the neck, narrowly missing her carotid artery. She survived the encounter, but the hospital has received an extraordinary interim order by the Ontario Labour Relations Board to provide formal security in the nurse’s unit 24-7.

Stories about patient assaults are always very difficult because of the risk of further stigmatizing persons with mental illness. The truth is that a person with mental illness is more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator of it. With so few beds left in Ontario’s psychiatric hospitals, there is a filtering process that takes place so that patients finding their way into one of these beds are more likely to be a risk to themselves or to others. That should be a call to administrators to step up their efforts to keep everyone safe.

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Transformation or austerity? Hospitals lose further capacity in new round of cuts

Photograph of large Kathleen Wynne puppet at the November rally against privatization of hospital services.

Protest last month over plans to contract hospital services to private clinics. Competitions have not been announced, but hospitals are cutting diagnostic and lab jobs, suggesting the government may be trying to achieve the same aim by stealth.

In October a Whitby nursing home experienced a major fire displacing more than 250 residents.

About 80 of those residents found temporary accommodation in area hospitals. Many are still there for lack of available alternative long term care spaces in the community. It’s remarkable the public hospitals were able to accommodate this many residents given the limited availability of beds.

Hospitals are presently in the third year of a base funding freeze. The Ontario government has maintained that the freeze is part of their overall health care transformation plan, but the Whitby experience would suggest that there is increasingly less flexibility due to funding shortfalls across the entire system. In another year or two how many beds will be available under a similar emergency?

The previous Auditor General of Ontario warned in 2011 that restraining annual health care funding increases to a proposed 3.6 per cent would lead to either service cuts or rising deficits. Instead we have seen health care funding increases limited even further to roughly 2 per cent.

In recent weeks a number of hospitals have been meeting with their respective unions to give notice of layoffs in the coming year. This is starting to become an annual holiday season tradition worthy of a Charles Dickens novel.

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Wynne and Clark cling to discredited P3s despite damning report

Photograph of ballot counting during the 2013 Ontario Health Coalition plebiscite on P3s in Kingston.

In 2013 Kingston residents voted overwhelmingly against a proposed P3 hospital in their city. Despite the results, the Province signed a contract to use expensive private financing to build a new facility to replace Providence Care Mental Health.

Infrastructure Ontario CEO Bert Clark says the $8 billion premium the government spent to build public infrastructure under the public-private partnership model doesn’t tell the whole story.

He’s right, but likely not in the way he’s suggesting.

Remarkably Tuesday night Clark clung to the $14 billion in savings Infrastructure Ontario says is made possible through the privatized model of infrastructure development even though the Auditor General made it clear that figure is based on flawed comparisons and a lack of empirical data to support it. In today’s Toronto Star he downgraded it to $6 billion.

Infrastructure Ontario was not so brazen in its initial response to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s recommendations. Most of their responses in the AG’s report make minor admissions and rely on “third party experts” to justify the rest.

As we stated Tuesday afternoon, just two errors in cost allocation identified by the AG is enough to suddenly swing 18 privatized projects into the public column, saving the public treasury $350 million. Did their “third party experts” notice these errors?

In yesterday’s Star Clark highlights the Union Station renovation and the subway extension to York University as counter examples of public procurement projects that have experienced cost overruns and delays.

By contrast Lysyk points out there were in fact eight P3 projects that were delayed longer than 60 days – the longest more than a year off schedule. For six of those projects the contractor did face financial consequences, but in two they did not. That’s eight out of 38.

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Eight billion reasons why we were right about P3s

2006 photo of P3 protest.

P3 protest in 2006. Pity the government didn’t listen then. In 2014 the Auditor General of Ontario says P3s have cost us $8 billion more.

If there is any trace of self-respect left within the Ontario government, Premier Kathleen Wynne should do the right thing and pull the plug on Infrastructure Ontario’s public-private partnership (P3) program now.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk delivered a devastating blow to a program that obscured its shortcomings for years in an overflowing super-sized container of gobbledygook.

For all the assurances Infrastructure Ontario could manufacture, it turns out that value for money came down to the “professional judgment and experience” of third-party private sector “advisors.” As Lysyk states in her report, “the probabilities and cost impacts are not based on any empirical data that supports the valuation of risk.”

For a government that has been hammering public sector workers, shuttering hospital clinics, and denying patients access to home care in the name of fiscal restraint, the Auditor General made clear they were more than willing to spend $8 billion more than necessary on private consortiums to build infrastructure in this province – the majority of it in health care. About $6.5 billion of that amount is represented by higher financing costs borne by the private sector – a general point the previous Auditor General made in the evaluation of the William Osler P3 deal in 2008.

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