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Niagara residents say broken home care dangerous, unacceptable

We the North
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More than 100 residents of the Niagara region attended a town hall meeting Tuesday night in St. Catharines to express their frustration and anger about the poor quality of home-care in their communities.

The town hall meeting was organized by OPSEU Local 294, which is currently on strike against CarePartners, a company under contract to the local Community Care Access Centre to provide home care.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas opened the meeting. “Home and community care are in a state of crisis,” he said, “and it is going to get worse because more and more patient care is provided by private companies striving to make the biggest profit possible.  They do this by pushing down wages and forcing workers to rush through their treatments.  They also pay massive salaries to their managers and executives.”

OPSEU 1st Vice President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida said that CarePartners wants to impose a piecework wage system that pays nurses per visit, rather than by the hours they work.  Since some visits can take up to two hours, the $17 they are paid for the visit means they are often working for less than minimum wage.

OPSEU Regional VP Deb Tungatt moderated the evening. Elected officials attending included Welland MPP Cindy Forster, the mayor of St. Catharines, Walter Sendzik, Councillor Michael Britton, and John Dunstall of Grimsby. Sue Hotte of Niagara Health Coalition and Barb Jefferies were featured speakers.

Many residents expressed frustration at the poor level of home care being received by them or a member of their family.  The meeting heard from patient Martha Dunlop, a Niagara resident who underwent surgery in August and needed post-operative care to treat the wound with fresh bandages. She should have been back to work in a matter of weeks.

Rather than receive the care at home, Martha had to go to the local clinic to receive treatment because of the strike.  She said that on one occasion the rushed nurse attended to her and other patients without changing gloves between patients.  Martha’s wound subsequently became severely infected, for which she was put on antibiotics.  She stopped taking antibiotics two weeks ago, but has not received permission from her doctor to return to work.  What should have been a routine procedure became needlessly complicated.

A number of attendees shared stories of family members having simple procedures go horribly wrong because of inadequate or nonexistent care arranged by the local CCAC.  Nurses have missed appointments because of incorrect schedules and family members would have to fight with the local health care providers to arrange for the care the patient required.

A recurring theme was that the individual workers should not be faulted. “I promise you we do care, we care too much and the broken system has forced us to become assembly line workers and we hate ourselves for it,” said Local 294 President Erin Warman. “So in turn the community sees no continuity in care, different staff and new faces more frequently than anyone could imagine and compromised treatment that appears as uncaring nurses not wanting to do their job.”

Warman called on community members to “write, email, use social media, phone, lobby, rally and protest for change in healthcare. Instead of frontline workers and the public being divided, we have to band together and move forward as one, to demand the required changes to our healthcare system.”

The CarePartners Local 294 strike started April 10 and heads to mediation with the Ontario Labour Relations Board on Nov. 26 followed by a hearing to determine if the local has a case for first collective agreement arbitration.

See a video report on the town hall meeting here.

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OPSEU President Smokey Thomas

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Local 294 President Erin Warman and OPSEU Regional VP Deb Tungatt