While the Ontario government cuts hospitals and downloads care onto the community, and Community Care Access Centre CEOs give themselves hefty pay hikes, both have forced frontline health workers onto cold picket lines to fight a wage freeze.
Cutting and privatizing healthcare
For years the Ontario Liberals have cut healthcare and closed hospitals, including five planned hospital closures in Niagara. According to the Ontario Health Coalition, "For the last seven consecutive Ontario budgets, public hospitals have faced real dollar cuts to global budgets. Ontario now funds its hospitals at among the lowest rates in Canada."
Health professionals who work at Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) -- including registered nurses and nurse practioners, physiotherapists, occupational, respiratory and speech therapists, and social workers -- provide essential care to patients recently discharged from hospital, those with chronic health problems, and those with end of life care. Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) president Linda Haslam-Stroud's own parents depend on CCAC workers, and as she said, "It was only because of these care co-ordinators (that they could live at home)."
These services should allow people the flexibility and independence to access care from home, but governments are cynically using home care to justify cuts and privatization. As Natalie Mehra from the Ontario Health Coalition explained,
"The story from the Ministry of Health has been that the cuts to hospital care and the downloading of ever more acute and complex hospital patients is not a cut -- it is 'transformation.' This is utter nonsense. Not only is it a cut. It is the systematic dismantling of vital hospital services that are never replaced in home care. And it is the privatization of vital hospital services to private clinics that undermine single-tier Medicare."
CCACs show what happens when you privatize healthcare. As Bob Hepburn outlined in the Toronto Star a year ago,
"First, executive salaries at Community Care Access Centres, which govern home care in Ontario, have skyrocketed while low-paid workers who actually deliver services to patients haven't seen their incomes rise in a decade -- and in many cases have actually suffered significant drops. Second, the 14 CCACs are now using tax dollars meant for patient care to pay for lobbying firms that advise the CCACs on how to 'sell' their message to politicians at Queen's Park. Third, barely 40 to 50 cents of every tax dollar earmarked for home care actually reaches the health-care professionals who deliver services to patients. Stunningly, the rest goes to executive salaries, rent, administrative costs, care coordination and corporate profits. Fourth, a reign of fear and intimidation imposed by CCAC bureaucrats has effectively shut up critics of the system, especially those employed by private companies that have contracts with CCACs to provide the workers who actually deliver services to patients."
Downloading services into the home also transfers care to unpaid domestic labour, disproportionately affecting women. Now the CEOs who awarded themselves massive pay hikes are trying to impose yet another pay freeze on home care workers -- also disproportionately women -- while the Liberal government turns their back on patients.
Braving the cold against a wage freeze
But 3,000 members of the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) have gone on strike at 9 of 14 CCACs across the province. After a two year pay freeze, all they are asking for is a 1.4 per cent increase -- the same as that received by the 57,000 registered nurses working in hospitals, long-term care and public health.
While home care workers are braving the cold against a wage freeze, the CEOs are basking in the sun -- like Richard Joly, CEO of the North East CCAC, who gave himself a 48 per cent pay hike (from $176,000 to $260,000), and according to ONA is currently on vacation in Mexico. As Haslam-Stroud said, "While we are there for you in your homes, schools and communities, the CEOs are continuing to award themselves hefty increases, in most cases, and jetting off to Mexico during a crisis in home care. The public should be angry and this government should be taking action."
Scabs don't heal
Instead of respecting home care workers and paying them a fair raise, CCACs are putting patients at risk by using untrained replacement workers. As Haslam-Stroud explained,
"Information has been received from inside the South West CCAC that accounting staff and HR are doing this work. It is totally inappropriate for our patients to have their wounds assessed by accounting and HR staff. The referrals for registered nurses to assess wounds should come from a doctor, the family members of home patients and long-term care facilities. The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care should be taking immediate steps to address this unacceptable practice and get back to the negotiating table with a reasonable offer for our essential nurses and health care providers."
Meanwhile the Liberal government -- who created this crisis in the first place by cutting hospitals and encouraging privatization -- is pretending nothing's wrong. Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins claimed that "CCACs have developed contingency plans and are working with all of their partners to ensure patients continue to receive the care they need." The mainstream media are dutifully playing along, with headline like "Ontario health workers strike could cause hospital backlogs," blaming the chronic hospital backlog created by government cuts on a few days of home care workers fighting back.
Patients above profits
We need to support the 3,000 home care workers on strike, as part of putting patients above profits. We need to reverse hospital cuts that are downloading services, and where there is a need for homecare it shouldn't be contracted out to for-profit corporations but provided by nurses and personal support workers -- who are well paid for the vital services they provide. As Margaret Marcotte, a labour relations officer for ONA in Windsor, said on the picket line, "My appeal is this: call the CEOs of your CCAC, call your MPPs, call your local LHINs and demand they get back to the table and negotiate a fair deal."
Join a picket line -- for more information visit ONA.