Nova Scotia

Capital Health strike would be felt in 'days'

The Capital District Health Authority says the system can only withstand a strike for a matter of days if thousands of health workers walk off the job as threatened.
Nearly 3,600 members of the NSGEU are eligible to strike on April 25. (CBC)

The Capital District Health Authority says the system can only withstand a strike for a matter of days if thousands of health workers walk off the job as threatened.

Nearly 3,600 members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union are eligible to strike on April 25.

"The pent-up demand for all the other things in the community, for the elective surgeries that would be cancelled, that pressure will get larger and larger," said Barbara Hall, the health authority's vice-president of person-centred care.

"We don't feel that we could endure, with emergency staffing, a very long strike."

Officials at the Capital District Health Authority — the province's largest health authority — said they have a plan in place in case that happens.

Starting Wednesday, patients in long-term care waiting for a nursing home bed were moved out of the hospital.

"What we are trying to do starting today is discharge as many individuals that are waiting for nursing homes. You'll know that we have in our facilities, always, people who are waiting for nursing homes," Hall told reporters.

"We've instituted what we call a hospital variance, which means that the hospital people waiting for nursing homes will get priority over the community folks that are waiting."

Diagnostic and laboratory tests will continue right up until the day of a strike. Operations will be cancelled if a patient requires hospitalization during a strike.

That means approximately 104 surgeries a day will be cancelled, adding to a waiting list that already has 9,000 names on it.

Emergency rooms to be fully staffed

Emergency rooms will be fully staffed, and urgent operations and cancer surgeries will continue to be performed.

"We will only be taking you if you are urgent, life or limb," said Karen MacRury-Sweet, the director of heart health and critical care at the Capital District Health Authority.

Officials said they won't be able to keep the system going for very long if workers from 170 different job classifications — including licensed practical nurses, occupational therapists and medical laboratory technologists — walk out.

Dr. David Kirkpatrick, the chief of surgery at the health authority, said he thinks some workers in the union should be considered essential, and they aren't necessarily the ones with the most training.

"The truth is, the people who clean and sterilize the instruments who don't have as long a training period, those individuals are more necessary for the hour to hour, day to day functioning of the institution," he said Wednesday.

"There are people in those kinds of vocations where it's really time sensitive — their work is time sensitive — they would bring the institution to its knees quicker than some other groups."

No new contract talks are scheduled, but union representatives said they would be willing to go back to the table.

"All parties need to get back to the table, including us, to find out if there's a resolve to this to avert job action," said Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

"Our members want us to avert job action at the end of the day, but they also want a fair contract."

The two sides are far apart on the issue of wages.

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