Thunder Bay·Audio

Unifor rallies in Thunder Bay over health care, contract issues

The union that represents more than 25 hundred workers at several hospitals across Northwestern Ontario held a rally today in Thunder Bay.

Union local protests lack of funding for healthcare, contract talks with Ontario hospitals

Unifor staged a rally outside St. Joseph's Hospital in Thunder Bay on Monday. The union was raising concerns about many issues including funding for health care. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)
Members of Unifor took to the streets for a rally in front of St. Joseph's Hospital in Thunder Bay. 5:53

The union that represents more than 2,500 workers at several northwestern Ontario hospitals held a rally Monday in Thunder Bay.

Unifor's demonstration outside St. Joseph's Hospital over the lunch hour was to draw attention to multiple issues, including the state of current contract negotiations, government funding for health care, and proposed cuts the union says are coming to palliative care at St. Joe's.

Unifor local 229 president Kari Jefford said there's not enough support for health care by the province or Ottawa.

"Folks really need to know what's happening to our everyday services in our communities."

Kari Jefford, president of Unifor local 229 speaking at Monday's rally in Thunder Bay (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

In addition to St. Joe's, Unifor represents workers in hospitals in Marathon, Nipigon, Atikokan, Manitouwadge and Geraldton.

Jefford said its members include nursing staff, technicians, dietary staff and housekeeping, among others. Their collective agreement with the Ontario Hospital Association, a body that represents many hospitals in the province, expires next month.

"What we'd like to see, actually, [is for the OHA to] come to the table and negotiate a wage increase or a compensation package or even to maintain what we have; there's huge concessions on the table."

Jefford said the "bad spot," hospitals are in, with funding, trickles down to the front-line staff and the care they are able to provide.

"How do you do more with less every single day? And that just filters right back down to the workers in the system," she said.

"We're working short. We're working dangerously. They're overworked."

Concerns over palliative care beds

Unifor also claims St. Joseph's Care Group has a proposal before the Northwest Local Health Integration Network to reduce the number of palliative care beds at its Thunder Bay hospital.

"They have flirted with reducing some of the beds in the palliative care unit," said Angie Martz, a nurse who works in the palliative care unit.

"Which is ... it's sad, I mean we're a great service."

Angie Martz, a registered practical nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital, at Monday's rally in Thunder Bay. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Martz said there's a need for those beds.

"Absolutely there`s a demand," she said. "I mean we are a hospital and so we have palliative care patients throughout the hospital, however, [the] palliative care unit, as well as the hospice unit are a .... they're a special nursing."

St. Joseph's Care Group president and CEO Tracy Buckler told CBC News there is no formal proposal, but changes in the palliative unit are under discussion, in part, she says, because more people are choosing to die at home.

"There's been no official proposal submitted," she said. "But we're certainly having those conversations around what's, again, the most appropriate care for the people that we're here to serve."

Buckler said St. Joe's has 32 hospice and palliative care beds, but not all are used for that purpose.

"At any given time, over a third to a half of those beds are filled with people that are waiting for long-term care, so in fact they're not actual hospice or palliative care clients," she said.

"We always want to make sure that we're putting our resources where the greatest need and the greatest demand is."

Buckler said ideally, St Joe's would like to reduce existing four-bed rooms in the unit to two beds each.

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