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Local 320 members to Hoskins: Will you hire us?

Open letter to the Honourable Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care
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On April 4, concerned members of OPSEU Local 320 in Parry Sound and area sent the following open letter to Eric Hoskins, Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. 

via email and post

The Honourable Eric Hoskins, Minister
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
10th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2C4

Dear Minister Hoskins,

We are a group of 27 personal support workers (PSWs), all women, working for the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) in Parry Sound and surrounding area. We are a hard-working and dedicated group, providing excellent care to the patients we serve. With the full support of our union’s president Warren (Smokey) Thomas, we’re writing to tell you that your plan to “put patients first” is far from achieving its goal. As the experts on the front lines, please take it from us.

All of us have been working as PSWs locally for more than four years, and many of us have spent upwards of 20 years doing this work. This is impressive when you consider that the home and community care sector is often plagued by high staff turnover as a result of the precarious nature of our type of work. Often, this can result in poor continuity of care; new hires don’t have time to learn the nuances of each patient, but these nuances are critical to each patient’s well-being. Our cancellation rate is remarkably low; we rarely cancel a scheduled appointment. To describe us as reliable is an understatement. We are fiercely proud of the work we’re doing.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem in home care. While Patients First recognizes the value of providing health care at home, it fails utterly to propose the changes that would move more home care dollars to the front lines. And we could all lose our jobs as a result. We’re writing to ask if you will hire us; please let us explain.

In her 2015 report, the Auditor General found that for every dollar spent by a Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), only 61 per cent is spent on the actual face-to-face treatment of patients. Much of the remaining 39 per cent goes to managerial salaries and profits of for-profit home care companies. Patients First proposed the elimination of the CCACs, deemed a tier of unnecessary bureaucracy. But what about all the bureaucracy it takes to run the 160 separate agencies across Ontario that are contracted to provide home care, including non-profit ones like the VON? Why not fix the system so that our money isn’t funding this plethora of agencies?

Why not “contract in” the delivery of home care services? 

Minister, we are writing to ask that you make this happen in Parry Sound and district with one simple change: make the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) our employer.

Our situation shines a light on how contracting out really works. For years, our employer has been threatening to end our contract with the CCAC and strong-arming us into taking concessions, including less compensation for travel and charting time (both critical parts of our work). We’ve been told that “times are tough,” and that if we want to keep our jobs, we have to accept less. Your government’s recent implementation of harmonized billing rates for PSW visits is merely the latest excuse that’s been used by our employer to drive this argument.

If the VON decides to walk away from its contract in Parry Sound, this will hurt patient care. As care providers, we have spent years building a rapport with our patients; we have built relationships of trust, and we know all too well that familiarity and consistency are crucial to positive patient outcomes.

As PSWs, we risk our lives, driving on country roads in rain or shine (but more often than not in snow, sleet and ice).  We go into people’s homes, often the most sick, frail, and elderly in our community, and we do everything in our power to provide excellent and consistent care. We service a particularly rural and remote region; sometimes we travel more than an hour each way to visit a patient.

As the complexity of patient needs is growing, we find ourselves doing more of what has historically been seen as nursing work. We’re doing more, with less.

True patient care depends on respect for frontline workers. So Minister, will you hire us?

Sincerely,

A very concerned group of PSWs from OPSEU Local 320 in Parry Sound

Kim Ainslie, Johanna Bradley, Laurie Burns, Wanda Bushey, Heidi Fleischmann, Cathy Follick, Eilleen Grisdale, Kendra Kerr, Kathryn Loch, Julie Olds, Deborah Powell, Kim Schmidt, Carrie Shurr, Julia Snyder, Cathy Todd, Mary Vincent, Susan Wickman

Enclosure

c: Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU
Norm Miller, MPP (Parry Sound-Muskoka)
Jeff Yurek, PC Health Critic
France Gelinas, NDP Health Critic