Continuity of care is important to the delivery of home care. Each time a caregiver changes there is a necessary rebuilding of relationships. If caregivers are continually turning over, it is much more difficult to notice changes in the patient’s medical condition. For example, if a nurse never saw a wound before, how can she or he tell whether it is healing properly? Much of the care work is intimate in nature and subsequently relationships built up over time are important.
In 2003 the not-for-profit Victorian Order of Nurses lost the Community Care Access Centre’s visiting nursing contract in the Niagara region during a year in which the community was celebrating VON’s centenary. We were told over and over that the competitions were about quality, not necessarily price.
In the subsequent contract turnover one of the companies – the for-profit CarePartners – simply could not recruit sufficient experienced staff to successfully take over care from the VON. Instead they shuttled nursing staff from other operations around the province to do what they could to shore up their contract obligations. We heard first-hand patient stories about missed visits, about an inability to contact CarePartners over the weekends, about stressed staff rushing in and out to keep up with an impossible workload.
Of those few nurses who transitioned from VON to CarePartners, in 2005 we were unable to successfully argue in court that this represented a sale of business, and subsequently those workers were unable to retain their rights or union. Many of the VON’s original staff decided to find work elsewhere.
It’s more than 10 years later and the Niagara and Norfolk County staff of CarePartners chose OPSEU to help them seek a first collective agreement with the company. CarePartners is a much larger corporation these days thanks to an initial merger with Red Cross and the subsequent purchase of Red Cross’ home support operations.
Last December’s strike by SEIU members at Red Cross Care Partners demonstrated how heartless this company was, leaving its workers to walk a picket line right up to Christmas Eve before agreeing at the last-minute to go to arbitration. Many of these women could not afford to go to work for the poverty-level wages the company was paying. That bitter strike eventually led the province to shore up the ranks of personal support workers by hiking the PSW minimum wage and finding new money to improve their wages over a three-year period.
For home care professionals such as nurses, therapists, and social workers there was no wage adjustment despite the fact that these jobs are also transient and paid well below market value.
As we noted yesterday, corporate buyouts seldom benefit the staff who work at these operations. If anything, it increases pressure to reduce compensation to cover the purchase price. CarePartners appears to be indifferent to the high turnover and demoralized spirit among their Niagara and Norfolk County visiting nursing staff. They have done everything they can to thwart a first collective agreement for these nurses after voting to join OPSEU more than 15 months ago. They appear indifferent to criticism leveled at them.
With no collective agreement there has been no wage increase.
Nor is there any grievance process.
The staff have been denied a bulletin board to communicate with each other, and use of the internal e-mail system for even basic contact has been forbidden. CarePartners must know that it is difficult for employees to talk to each other when their work location is primarily their patient’s homes. If staff cannot freely communicate with each other, we wonder how this affects other aspects of their overall performance?
OPSEU’s staff representative has been told that they will only be recognized at the bargaining table. Without a collective agreement, they will not recognize her in any other capacity, including attending accommodation meetings for injured workers.
OPSEU has filed an unfair labour practices application over CarePartners delays and behaviour, including complaints of harassment over the treatment of two members of the bargaining team. That application will be heard in December.
Meanwhile we are told that staff continue to leave, seeking employment with more reasonable employers, some who actually respect their skilled staff. That means less continuity of care – one of the key quality indicators for home care.
The Ministry will undoubtedly write these problems off as a labour relations issue, but clearly quality of care is at stake. CarePartners serves at the pleasure of an elected government. That government owes it to patients in Niagara and Norfolk Counties to monitor this situation carefully.
Are you an OPSEU member at CarePartners in Niagara and Norfolk Counties? We’re holding a meeting at the OPSEU Regional Office in Fonthill on Monday, November 24 at 6 pm. At that time your bargaining team will present an update as well as talk about actions that are planned towards securing a first collective agreement. The OPSEU regional office is located at 2285 Highway 20 East, Fonthill. See you there. For more information, send an e-mail to OPSEU.L294@gmail.com