Kitchener-Waterloo

As workers protest layoffs and cuts, Grand River Hospital pledges not to eliminate services

Workers at Grand River Hospital held a protest Wednesday to demonstrate against layoffs, service reductions and the hospital not adding them to a provincial pension plan as promised.

Hospital administration says operating plan and budget don't include eliminating services

A large group of people gathered in front of Grand River Hospital Wednesday to demonstrate against layoffs and service cuts at the hospital. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

As workers rallied outside Grand River Hospital protesting layoffs and service reductions, hospital officials announced they won't eliminate any healthcare services over the next year.

In February, the hospital confirmed it had laid off 25 full-time and 15-part-time nurses. In April, officials said they were unable to rule out more layoffs after the provincial budget.

But a statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo Wednesday afternoon from the hospital's interim manager of communications, Cheryl Evans, said the hospital's "2019-2020 operating plan and budget does not include the elimination of any healthcare services we currently provide to patients."

The statement added that hospital administration "appreciate our staff and community members are passionate about healthcare. We are too."

Four unions took part in the demonstration Wednesday: Unifor, Ontario Nurses' Association, Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) and United Steelworkers. People held signs and flags and waved to passing motorists. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'We're really concerned'

Wednesday's protest was organized by four unions: Unifor, Ontario Nurses' Association, Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) and United Steelworkers.

Nancy Brissett has worked at Grand River Hospital for 30 years and is a Unifor representative for clerical workers.

She said the protest was a chance for workers to let the community know what is happening at their hospital.

"This hospital has a fairly significant deficit, plus we also have a premier and a province and a government that doesn't care a lot about what's going on in health care," she said.

"We're concerned obviously about our members and our jobs but I'll be honest with you, I've worked here for 30 years, I love the people that I've taken care of," she added.

"We're really concerned about our patients and this community and the loss of services we're going to see under this current government and what's happening at this hospital specifically."

Brissett said the cuts to jobs and services will ultimately impact patients.

"It's going to be longer waits, it's going to be less access to a nurse," she said.

Some people brought dogs along to the demonstration, this one sporting a flag from the Ontario Nurses Association. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Pension plan problems

Part of the protest also centred around the hospital's administration changing its plans for pension. Many hospital workers in the province are part of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, or HOOPP.

Grand River Hospital had planned to move workers to that plan, but then changed its mind.

Evans said they were exploring merging the hospital-run pension plan with HOOPP, but "the cost to do so was substantially higher than initially projected and it would have required us to assume substantial debt.  For this reason, we did not proceed."

In a statement about the protest to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, Minister of Health Christine Elliott's press secretary Hayley Chazan said the government is investing in frontline health care, which will help hospitals deliver care.

"Hospitals are independent corporations run by their own boards of directors. As such, hospital boards and administrators are responsible for day-to-day management of their hospitals, including services offered, the quality of care provided to their patients, staffing, and the implementation of the various standards and procedures adopted by the board," the statement said.

"The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care will continue to work with Grand River Hospital to ensure that patients continue to have access to quality, evidence-based and accessible care when and where they need it."

People stood along King Street, holding signs and waving flags at motorists, some of which honked support. People who spoke with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo say they're concerned about what service cuts and layoffs could mean for patient care at Grand River Hospital. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Nobody's OK with cuts

Outside, where it was raining lightly for part of the protest, dialysis patient Steve Sachs supported the demonstration by workers.

"The patients need these services. And nurses, and doctors, and every staff member here is critical to the success of this hospital," he said.

Keiran Morton, a Grade 10 student from Kitchener Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School, walked with friends to the protest to take part during their lunch break.

"Budget cuts are bad, especially when its something like public health, and we don't want to end up like America," he said.

Laurie Brown, regional vice president for the Ontario Nurses Association, said she's hearing from workers at Grand River Hospital that they're feeling stressed.

"They've lost jobs by attrition, so when somebody retires they don't hire someone else. And already the workload is so heavy for these healthcare workers and they want to do the best for families, they want to look after people the best they can, but they're strapped to the max," she said.

Brissett said after Wednesday's protest, people will return to their jobs, but they will keep speaking out.

"Nobody's going to be OK with cuts to frontline healthcare workers and a decrease in health care," she said.

"We feel like there's no other alternative. The alternative to just be quiet and accept it is not acceptable to me."

Workers at Grand River Hospital demonstrated along King Street on Wednesday to protest layoffs and service cuts at the hospital. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

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