Open letter from President Thomas re. Owen Sound Family Health Organization

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent the following open letter today to Dr. Steven Bodley, President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, regarding the Owen Sound Family Health Organization, and the 22 doctors who own the clinic.  

July 24, 2018

Dr. Steven Bodley, President
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
80 College Street
Toronto, Ontario, M5G 2E2

Dear Dr. Bodley,  

On behalf of OPSEU’s entire Executive Board, I am writing to express deep concern about the Owen Sound Family Health Organization (FHO), and the 22 doctors who own the clinic. We feel that the College’s standards for medical practice and professionalism have been breached, and are calling for immediate action.

For ten weeks, the nurses, clerical and custodial staff working at the FHO have been embattled in a strike. These OPSEU members are asking to be paid the same as employees doing the same work at other facilities; this is about basic respect and fairness.

But those principles are far from what our members are experiencing on the ground.

Strikes by their very nature are challenging, often with tensions running high. But what our members have experienced goes beyond the norm. Doctors have hurled insults, including highly offensive, derogatory and sexist remarks to our members on the strike line; words that should never be uttered, and which I will not repeat here.

Quite shockingly, the doctors have revealed information about the health of a replacement worker. With a recent privacy breach at the Ottawa Hospital making headlines, we’ve seen how easy it is for patient information to be leaked – this is highly unnerving. Organizations that handle health information – including the Owen Sound FHO – are required to take steps to ensure that personal health information is protected. We are concerned by the doctors’ flagrant disregard for patient privacy, and for their own legislated obligations.

Despite their unwillingness to bargain a fair collective agreement with their staff, this group of doctors has been throwing public money at high-priced Toronto lawyers and private security throughout the duration of the strike. Last week, when an agreement seemed within reach, the doctors resorted to threats of layoffs for the Registered Nurse, nine Registered Practical Nurses and five clerical staff positions.

They’ve threatened to replace these classifications with new positions titled “Medical Office Assistant” and “Patient Flow Coordinator.” The new positions would not be part of a professional college that ensures patient confidentiality or standards of care. This is a clear move to deskill the workforce, and to undermine the union, so that a select few can pull in more profits. This runs contrary to the principles of our public health care system, and poses a significant threat to patient wellbeing.  

These workers aren’t widgets Dr. Bodley; they can’t just be tossed aside with no regard for patient care. Surely, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario does not believe in assembly line medicine, where public dollars are used to line the pockets of private clinic owners. 

A Family Health Organization cannot operate without trained and qualified nurses. While we recognize that this behaviour is not reflective of all doctors, we trust you will agree that these actions are reprehensible.

Surely, this does not withstand the standard of medical practice and professionalism that your organization so strongly espouses. I am writing today to ask that the College take a stand against such malicious actions, to defend public health care, and respect for all workers and professionals in the health care community.

In Solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)



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