Your choices for the best of Diablogue in 2013

It’s time for us to take a break for the season. We hope you’ll be back with us in 2014.

There’s certainly much to talk about as the Ontario government continues with its “transformation.” Recently HealthyDebate featured a post discussing change fatigue in Alberta’s health system. The three authors — Greta Cummings, Karen Born and Josh Tepper — describe how constant change has led to a decline in morale among health professionals in that province. This sounds very familiar and is likely happening much closer to home too. Tepper, as you may recall, worked here for the Ministry of Health as Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) in the Health Human Resources Strategy Division. He oughta know. He now holds a post as President and Chief Executive Officer of Health Quality Ontario. We will be following the ongoing changes carefully and assess whether Health Minister Deb Matthews is creating true “transformation” or digging a real big hole for all of us.

When vacation calls we usually leave you with an invitation to explore the nearly one thousand posts we’ve created since 2010.

This month we thought we’d feature the top 10 posts you thought important during 2013. Click on the headlines to take you to the story. Meanwhile, happy holidays!

1. Bangladesh Tragedy – Factory manager’s words come back to haunt us

When we posted this story back in April there was minimal interest in our tale about a Nicaraguan factory manager who schooled us in “savage capitalism.” While he paid workers $45 a week to make Levis Dockers, he was complaining factories in Bangladesh were underbidding for these contracts and paying their workers half to one-third the rate. And we all know what happened in Bangladesh. This month the story went viral when a U.S. fashion site linked to our post to show its readers what these “free trade zone” factories are like. In less than a day it became our most visited story of the year, the readers coming from countries circling the globe.

2. Too frank for the food industry

The second most popular post was actually a re-post of a video put together by Ottawa’s Dr. Yoni Freedhoff. Friedhoff was invited by the Ontario Medical Association to speak at a small food industry association breakfast. Just days before the event the organizers uninvited Dr. Friedhoff without explanation. That gave the good doctor the incentive to give the presentation anyway and post it on YouTube for all of us to see. The food industry should have kept the date.

3. Fraser got it wrong

The Fraser Institute has been on the attack for much of this year, sensing the public was in the mood to bash the public sector. One of their claims was that absenteeism rates in the public sector were much higher than the private, suggesting public sector workers were perhaps dogging it. Statscan also looked at the issue and pointed out that when you weighted for age, gender, and union representation, absenteeism rates between the public and private sectors were in fact very similar. After months of being bashed, public sector workers flocked to this story. Teachers were particularly fond of it.

4. PSW Strike – A real life Dickens tale

Personal Support Workers have been very interested in the ongoing SEIU strike at Red Cross Care Partners. Walking a picket line at this time of year is very difficult, especially knowing that less money will be coming into these families at Christmas time. The extraordinary cold weather has not helped either. Its clear Health Minister Deb Matthews is relying on a low wage strategy in her transformation agenda, reminiscent of a Dickens character we like to visit at this time of year. At least in the Dickens tale the “transformation” was personal. If the striking PSWs are walking a picket line near you, please give them your support (and hopefully something warm). Please go to the SEIU justice4psws site for ongoing updates.

5. Under LHIN investigation, northern hospital files $500,000 legal action against activists

It was the wildest story of the year. A small northern Ontario hospital initiated legal action against a group of activists who were challenging a proposal to formally merge with two other hospitals. At one point it appeared nearly everyone was being served with legal papers. In the end the actions were dropped after Health Minister Deb Matthews appointed a supervisor to take over the hospital.

6. A tangible response to physiotherapy cuts – the province finally adds community capacity

After almost every other hospital in Ontario cut outpatient physiotherapy, the province announced what appeared to be new funding in April for community-based service. Well we thought it was new money until we realized it was coming from the OHIP-fees paid to private community clinics – most of them for-profit and owned by four companies. The last time the province had licensed a private physiotherapy clinic to do OHIP work was in the 1960s. The private clinics did issue a legal challenge over getting dropped from OHIP work. After that challenge failed, they shrugged it off and said their business would be largely unaffected.

7. Second deadline for PSW Registry is cancelled – for now

Back in 2012 the Minister of Health announced with much fanfare the creation of a PSW Registry. That registry was supposed to provide a level of accountability by maintaining a province-wide list of qualified personal support workers. Where it got sticky is around the rules for taking a PSW off the list – which would effectively end their career in Ontario. Instead of working out how the Registry would function before launching it, Deb Matthews announced what would become a work in progress. Registration was supposed to be mandatory, but we were told in March that it had become entirely voluntary – at least for now.

8. OHA silent about sudden departure of CEO and President

There was a lot of interest  when former Mike Harris aide Anthony Dale became interim CEO and President of the Ontario Hospital Association in June.  Everybody wanted to know why the sudden departure of Pat Campbell had taken place. We still don’t know. Last Thursday Dale had “interim” taken off his title.

9. Perram House: Why health professionals increasingly don’t want to work in community agencies

It broke our hearts when the Perram House board decided to close its doors in the middle of first contract negotiations with the staff of the downtown Toronto hospice. The closure had come just after the workers chose to take a strike vote rather than accept a wage rollback. After years of wage freeze for most, they were fed up. We recently came back to the site for an unveiling of a sign by two Toronto artists who call themselves the Department of Public Memory.

10. Bargaining: St. Elizabeth drops from top employer lists

St. Elizabeth Health Care used to boast they didn’t need no union. The thing is, it wasn’t really management’s choice. After having dropped from the top employer lists, workers at St. Elizabeth got a lot more interested in bargaining collectively. While top execs at St. Elizabeth have successfully ducked disclosure on the sunshine list, we revealed in this story that at least one employee had been reported on Open Charity as earning more than $350,000 a year – a far cry from what the front line workers were receiving. Who could that be? Hmmm.

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