Pandemic pay finally on way to healthcare workers in Thunder Bay
Pandemic pay promised by the Ontario government on April 25
Frontline healthcare workers at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph's Care Group have finally learned when they will receive their long-awaited pandemic pay.
The first wave of payments will start to be deposited as soon as July 24 and no later than Aug. 7, but many are frustrated with how long it has taken.
"The frustration and the morale in hospitals, long-term care facilities and public health units right across the province ... it's terrible," said Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses Association.
"We're almost three months post-announcement ... but the nurses and health professionals have not received pandemic pay generally and they feel disrespected," she added.
The Ontario government announced on April 25 that it would provide frontline staff with a temporary pandemic payment to recognize their "dedication and sacrifice" to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
All eligible workers were to receive an additional four dollars an hour on top of their regular wage, in addition to $250 dollars per month for everyone working more than 100 hours a month. The pandemic pay initiative lasts for 16 weeks, from April 24 to Aug. 13.
A memo circulated to staff at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre on July 15 said pandemic pay for the first two months of the initiative would not be disbursed to eligible employees until August 6. The extra pay for the second half of the program will not be disbursed until August 27.
Similarly, in a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for St. Joseph's Care Group said eligible employees will receive their retroactive pandemic pay on either July 24 or August 7, depending on their positions.
Peter Myllymaa, the executive vice president for corporate services and operations with the regional hospital, said he's sympathetic to the frustration felt by staff.
"I fully understand people's frustration with this and the frustration especially by some of the employees who aren't getting it and working side by side with someone who is. But again, that's driven by the government," he told CBC.
Myllymaa said as the government began to act on its promise, organizations began questioning why some categories of employees were left off the eligibility list, and confusion arose about who exactly qualified.
Then, on May 27 Deputy Minister of Health Helen Angus responded in a letter stating, "after careful consideration, the government will not be expanding the pandemic pay beyond those already deemed eligible."
Myllymaa said at that point, the hospital had to wait until July 10 before it received the cash—which is "in the neighbourhood of $5 million"— and could then arrange to disburse it.
Nonetheless, Mckenna is still disappointed with the delays.
"This pandemic pay, which was sort of a good news announcement, has turned into really quite a disaster for the government. I think that is something that could have been dealt with in a much more open and transparent way."
"Nurses tell me and health professionals have said they feel like it's a slap in the face. [They've been told] that it's retroactive, they'll get it eventually. Well you know what ... that doesn't really cut it."