Striking Renfrew County home care workers and their supporters picket outside of ParaMed’s Ottawa office on Monday.
As privatization creeps further into Canada’s health system it’s fair to ask whether decisions are being made based on private profit or health care needs?
As contract health providers become multinational, the interests of Canadian patients may also take a back seat to corporate priorities in other countries.
Extendicare is a Markham-based for-profit company that operates on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. About 37 per cent of its revenue comes from the company’s operations in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. CEO Timothy Lukenda lives in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, not far from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee. His father is a well-known dentist in the Sault and owns the junior hockey franchise in that city. Prior to getting the top job at Extendicare, Lukenda was an investment banker.
Extendicare’s business involves assisted living centers, nursing homes, health technology services, outpatient therapy and home health care. Overall they have 35,000 employees, making them one of the largest private long-term care providers in North America.
Extendicare’s home care subsidiary, ParaMed Home Health Care, is presently involved in a bitter strike in Renfrew County, northwest of Ottawa.
It’s fair to ask whether the hard-line ParaMed is taking at the bargaining table is motivated by priorities on the other side of the border?
Sign on the door Tuesday at of one of ParaMed’s Renfrew County offices.
Renfrew County doesn’t usually generate a lot of headlines.
In a very conservative part of the province the plight of a 110 striking home care workers is generating some sympathy as they take on a corporate behemoth. It’s a David versus Goliath story that pits the millionaire Extendicare CEO against the $12.88 an hour home support worker.
The striking front line staff at ParaMed Home Health Care’s Renfrew County operations are a mere drop in the bucket in Extendicare’s universe. Extendicare, which owns ParaMed, employs about 35,000 workers in Canada and the U.S. Its international headquarters are in Markham, Ontario.
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The power a company that size is being used to grind down the small Renfrew group. It’s been 21 months since their collective agreement expired and ParaMed has shown little interest in coming to the bargaining table or shifting from its hard-line position.
Of course, for Extendicare, there is little at stake beyond the profits generated from this small corner of the province and some public relations value. This is hardly showing Extendicare in a good light, but it may be the least of their concerns. Extendicare recently announced a $42.2 million legal settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after a 2010 investigation regarding undisclosed claims in alleged violation of the U.S. Social Security Act. The company also has to undergo a five-year corporate integrity agreement, not that Extendicare admits to having done anything illegal.
Back on the streets of Renfrew County the concerns are very different.