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OPSEU fights back against Wynne’s hospital cuts

OPSEU is ratcheting up the campaign against the Wynne government’s relentless attacks on Ontario’s health care system.  Here’s what’s happening across the province:

  • This week, the Ontario Health Coalition is rallying daily outside the pre-budget consultations being held throughout Ontario. Find out where and when the rallies are happening here. Join them!
  • This morning, OPSEU’s Hospital Professionals Division is launching a radio ad campaign to promote its new website Listen to the ad. Share it with your friends.
  • The campaign is being promoted on newspaper websites and Facebook.
  • A punchy online video shows the impact of health care funding cuts and how Wynne can start undoing the damage.

sad_hospitalThe goal is to put restoring our health care system on the Wynne government’s agenda.  Our treasured public health care system is suffering death by a thousand cuts. And it is happening with no public mandate.

For example, in 2014 Ontario brought in regulations making it easier to outsource community hospital services to private, for-profit clinics. These clinics typically take on low-risk, high-profit procedures such as cataract and colonoscopy services. This sucks money away from public hospitals.

Prior to the federal election, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said that “some of our greatest achievements as a country – the things that matter in the daily lives of Canadians – came about when federal, provincial, and territorial governments worked together to forge solutions to complex problems.  One example that touches all Canadian, in a profound and personal way, is medicare.”

He also said that “our health care system isn’t perfect, but it represents the best of Canadian federalism. It’s flexible enough to respond to the different regional needs, while protecting the national principles Canadians hold dear.”

It’s time for that flexibility to kick in.  A good start would be for our premier to say to the prime minister that Ontario desperately needs federal financial assistance to rebuild a once-proud health care system in this province.

But Trudeau knows the Wynne government has only itself to blame for its supposed financial difficulties. Corporations in Ontario have enjoyed a windfall of tax cuts that started with the Harris Conservative government and continued under the Liberals.

These and other cuts are costing the provincial treasury $20 billion a year. So it may ring a little hollow when Wynne says to Trudeau that she needs help because the Ontario cupboard is bare.

Still, Trudeau must help rebuild Ontario’s once-cherished public health care system, and help other provinces as well.  But Wynne could make Ontario’s request more attractive by showing she is willing to do her part.  She should use her legislative majority to restore the corporate tax rate to earlier levels.  That would raise more than $2 billion a year right away.

Later this week the federal/provincial/territorial Health Ministers meet in Vancouver.  It would great if our Health Minister, Eric Hoskins, could truthfully tell his colleagues that Ontario is committed to restoring a strong public health care system.

Home care: the debate the government wants to avoid

Ontario’s malfunctioning home and community care system is a prime example of why private sector companies should not deliver health care. They don’t do as good a job as the public sector.  And the private sector is more costly.

The home and community system’s problems are so severe that Health and Long-Term Care Minister Eric Hoskins recently announced that the province’s 14 top-heavy Community Care Access Centres were being shut down.  Local Health Integration Networks will expand and absorb the CCACs’ responsibilities.

In making the announcement, Hoskins summed up what we have been telling the government for years:  “Too often, health care services can be fragmented, uncoordinated and unevenly distributed across the province. For patients, that means they may have difficulty navigating the system or that not all Ontarians have equitable access to services. Too often our system is not delivering the right kind of care to patients who need it most.”

The minister released a discussion paper asking Ontarians to tell the government how home and community care could be improved.

But perhaps the process should be reversed.  Perhaps the public should release a discussion paper and ask the government to respond.

Who made the decision to privatize Ontario health care by stealth? In what election did Ontarians vote for privatized health care?  When did Ontarians vote that our health care system’s primary goal be profit?

The government wants more treatment traditionally provided in hospitals relocated to the home.  This includes vital services such as dialysis, complex wound care and palliative services.

There are often good reasons for doing this.  Many patients recover more quickly after surgery if they rest at home rather than in the hospital.  And it costs less.

But as more health care services are transferred from the hospital to the home, the Wynne government is quietly transferring care delivery from the public to the private sector.  It is laying off workers in hospitals and contracting private companies to provide home and community care services.

But for-profit health care companies strive to make as much profit as possible.  That’s why they exist.

Ontario’s Auditor General recently looked at the level of care offered by home care providers that are under contract to Community Care Access Centres.  She found that only 61 cents of every dollar paid by the CCACs actually ends up going to face-to-face patient care.

What happens to the rest of the money?  The 39 cents per dollar?  Much of it goes to managerial salaries and profits of the for-profit companies.

These companies maximize profits by pushing down wages and forcing their workers to rush through their treatments.  For many, their mantra is “cheap and fast.”

But cheap and fast should not be the guiding principle of a health care system.  The guiding principle should be to do what is best for the patient.  This is the principle followed when care providers work for the government instead of the for-profit companies.

This should be the focus of public debate. But not surprisingly, Hoskins’ discussion paper doesn’t ask for comment on its privatization agenda. Privatization is a conversation the government desperately wants to avoid, because the facts show that privatization results in poorer patient care.

Where’s Linda Knight now?

OPSEU Information picket outside the Niagara CCAC offices March 19th.

OPSEU Information picket outside the Niagara CCAC offices March 19th.

When the unhappy staff at the Niagara branch of CarePartners first entertained the idea of organizing themselves into a union, CarePartners owner Linda Knight picked up the phone and called each of the workers. She promised that things would get better if only the front line home care workers gave her another chance before joining a union.

Nobody knows any of the financial details of Knight’s business – the for-profit CarePartners is not publicly traded and is therefore not required to report the details of its operations. Nor are for-profit companies working with public money required to post on the Sunshine list. We do know that in 2003 Profit magazine ranked Knight 33rd among the top 100 women business owners based on the firm’s gross revenues. Media reports suggest CarePartners had more than 500 nurses on the payroll – a huge leap forward from the kitchen-table nursing operation Knight started in 1984.

The fact that a prominent CEO and business owner would call about 100 workers pleading with them not to organize was extraordinary.

The gambit worked at the time, and the workers gave her another chance to make things better.

Knight never honoured that pledge.

Fool me once, but not twice.

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ONA Strike: Home Care critical to Ontario’s health care strategy – just tell that to the CCACs

Picture of OPSEU President Warren Smokey Thomas with striking ONA CCAC professionals in Kingston on Friday January 30.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas (far right) with striking ONA CCAC professionals in Kingston last Friday.

About 3,000 professional staff at nine of the 14 Ontario Community Care Access Centres started walking a picket line Friday.

Represented by the Ontario Nurses’ Association, it’s the latest labour disruption in a sector the government considers to be critical to its overall health strategy.

About 140 OPSEU home care workers at ParaMed Home Health Care in Renfrew withheld their services last September after their agency initially failed to negotiate a deal that would lift many of its workers out of poverty. In 2013 SEIU took 4,500 personal support workers at Red Cross Care Partners out on strike over similar conditions. Following that strike the government implemented a well-intentioned but poorly constructed initiative to stabilize the Personal Support Worker (PSW) workforce by increasing funding for their wages over three years. As the government passed on wage increases for these PSWs, some private for-profit home care agencies clawed back compensation for travel time and mileage. In Niagara and Norfolk Counties OPSEU’s nursing staff at CarePartners are likely to strike soon to gain a first contract.

Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins has appointed former RNAO President Gail Donner to lead an expert review on the sector. Her recommendations are expected early this year. They can’t come soon enough.

The pressures during this latest strike will be tremendous given Ontario’s underfunded hospitals have little room to maneuver now that the ability to discharge home care patients to the CCAC has become much more limited.

The CCAC boards are looking particularly ridiculous. The Toronto Star reports that ONA was asking for a 1.4 per cent hike for its workers after emerging from a two-year wage freeze. To most people, that seems more than reasonable in the face of the lavish wage increases the CCAC boards have been bestowing on their CEOs.

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Deep River faces Ontario’s plan for laboratory testing: pay more, get less

Photograph of medical laboratory staff at London Health Sciences.

OPSEU Medical laboratory staff at London Health Sciences. Ontario hospitals are closing their doors to outpatient testing due to funding prohibitions, yet outpatient testing could save money and make labs more efficient.

One of the last hospitals in Ontario to provide local outpatient medical laboratory testing is transferring the service to the private for-profit Lifelabs Medical Laboratory Services.

The move will save the Deep River and District Hospital money, but cost the province more and lengthen the wait for results. Its Ontario’s pay more and get less plan.

Patients will still come to the hospital to get their blood drawn and other specimens collected, but the testing will not stay in the Deep River community unless the referring doctor or nurse practitioner marks it urgent (STAT). All existing inpatient testing will remain at the hospital’s lab, which is part of the amalgamated Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association (EORLA).

Coincidentally the move comes as the hospital is expanding to consolidate physician offices on site. As the physicians come closer into the central health hub for the community, the lab testing will be conducted further from Deep River.

EORLA and Deep River and District Hospital will still have to maintain staff and laboratory facilities that could easily handle these newly outsourced and privatized tests. Deep River must have staff present 24/7 to provide inpatient and emergency testing. Instead of turning around tests “super fast” at the hospital, professional laboratory technologists, technicians and phlebotomists will have much less to do. About 70 per cent of the hospital’s present lab work is conducted for outpatients.

Each outpatient test performed by Lifelabs is paid for publicly by OHIP. While the hospitals could perform these tests for much less using surplus capacity, they are prohibited from similarly billing OHIP. Instead they are expected to provide this service out of an annual budget that has been shrinking in relation to its overall costs.

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Hospital Cuts: Barrett could be hero or goat depending on the future of Chesley’s Restorative Care Unit

There was standing room only in Elmwood last Friday as residents rallied to save the Restorative Care Unit at the Chesley hospital.

There was standing room only in Elmwood last Friday as residents rallied to save the Restorative Care Unit at the Chesley hospital.

Michael Barrett has a problem.

The CEO of the South West Local Health Integration Network (SW LHIN) now has the ball in his court as local support has been building to save the restorative care unit at the Chesley Hospital, one of four small sites that make up the South Grey Bruce Health Centre (SGBHC).

Barrett’s LHIN initially funded the 10-bed unit on a trial basis three years ago. The problem is the LHIN had no plan in place should the trial turn out to be a runaway success. There was no funding for year two or beyond. That would be the hospital’s problem.

This may not be as odd as it sounds. The LHINs frequently incubate new projects through one-time funding. Some don’t pan out. Others do. In normal circumstances, new money is often found to keep the successful high-performing programs going, but these are far from normal times.

The restorative care unit at Chesley was successful and everybody knew it. When the hospital announced it didn’t have $800,000 to keep the program running past the end of April, the community quickly rallied. The media were filled with testimonies of how the lives of patients were turned around with a few weeks of restorative care at the hospital.

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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:

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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