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Calls to expand pandemic pay grow while those who qualify still waiting for money

More than a month after the premier first promised those working on Ontairo's front lines a $4/h pay bump for their help in fighting COVID-19, the money still hasn't started flowing and thousands say they've been left off the list of eligible workers despite working directly with infected patients.

The premier first announced the $4/hour pay bump in April and says it will transfer money early June

Ralph Yeung is an MRT in Kingston and despite helping with the treatment of COVID-19 patients daily, he does not qualify for pandemic pay. (Supplied by Ralph Yeung)

More than a month after the premier first promised those working on Ontario's front lines a $4/h pay bump for their help in fighting COVID-19, the money still hasn't started flowing and thousands say they've been left off the list of eligible workers despite working directly with infected patients. 

When Premier Doug Ford announced the pandemic pay in late April, it included about 350,000 workers, but there was an outcry because it didn't include some on the front line, such as paramedics and respiratory therapists. A few days later, the province expanded the list to include 25,000 more eligible workers. 

But as of June 1, the list still leaves off workers such as physiotherapists who work in intensive care units, rehabbing COVID-19 patients, and those who run x-ray machines to help with diagnosis. 

As for those healthcare workers who do qualify for the pay bump, the province says it is sending funding details to employers in early June, enabling them to add it to their payroll systems. 

"My colleagues and I are very sick and tired of policymakers in their offices and boardrooms telling us workers in the trenches that we're not front-line and essential enough, when our colleagues know different and our patients know different and when we know different," said Ralph Yeung, a medical radiation technologist (MRT) at a hospital in Kingston.

"Besides the overwhelming amount of potentially positive patients that come through ER on any given day, those who are COVID-positive and require hospitalization also require imaging to decide on treatment and monitor progression, and yet we are left off this list," said Yeung

MRTs are among a long list of professionals who are still waiting for recognition from the province for the work they do with COVID-19 patients. They worry about bringing home the virus to their families and spend their days working long hours in intensive care units in hospitals. 

Hospital CEO speaks out

From left to right: Social worker Asha Rawal, dietician Jill Pikul, and physiotherapists Lisa Moorhouse, Ali Sheeler, Johanna Fraser and dietitian Jennifer-Anne Meneray say their daily work with COVID-19 patients should qualify them for pandemic pay. (Supplied by Ali Sheeler)

"I would say that our work is critical across the board for Ontario health care and in the work that we've been doing in the last two months we have come in contact daily with patients who have been positive for COVID-19," Yeung said. 

Last week, the interim CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre, said he was disappointed in the many professions that have been left off the list of eligible employee groups, put out by the province. The hospital's lobbying on behalf of those employees has fallen on deaf ears. 

This week, the province will start sending funding details to employers such as hospitals, long-term care homes and jails. When exactly the extra pay will arrive in people's bank accounts, however, isn't known. The province said it is working with employers so that it happens as quickly as possible. 

CBC News has reached out to the province to ask if officials are considering adding any of the front-line workers left off the list, and will update this story when the information becomes available. 

But for those like Yeung and others who have been left off the list, they say their omission feels like a devaluation of their work. 

Since last week, biomedical engineers, cardiac technicians, physicians assistants, rehab assistants, phlebotomists and perfusionists, and many others, have contacted CBC News, dismayed that they, too will not be getting the pandemic pay, which is supposed to go to frontline and support workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I really wish I could ask the Premier to step into our shoes and see what our work is like,  but I think it's too dangerous for him to be in our setting," Yeung said.

"I want the Premier and the minister to keep doing their jobs and recognize that my colleagues and I have been in the trenches doing ours." 

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