Quebec’s health system has been in crisis for many years and now Quebec public health workers who refuse redeployment threatened with firing. Under the previous Liberal government, Bill 10 ‘An Act to modify the organization and governance of the health and social services network, in particular by abolishing the regional agencies’ was passed in the National Assembly in February of 2015. Since then, the health system has still faced serious problems. During Quebec’s 2018 provincial election campaign, the CAQ’s Francois Legault promised to address the issues. Due to the perceived failures of the Liberal government, the CAQ won with an overwhelming majority of seats and expectations were high for them to fulfill their promises. Unfortunately, the health system has not really improved at all since they came into power. And today, with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear the provincial health system in serious crisis.
Due to a recent governmental decree, the West-Central Montreal regional health authority announced that non-medical health workers, which include speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, social workers, dieticians and physiotherapists, are being redeployed to long-term care facilities. There is no question that help is needed. In fact, with the revelations of what has been happening in the senior residences, it is at a catastrophic level with not enough health workers to fill the demand needed. The CAQ has acknowledged their failure in this area and last week, Premier Francois Legault put out an urgent appeal to doctors and medical specialists for their help. Close to 2,000 workers in the CHSLDs have not being showing up to work and it is speculated the reason is that many of them fear contracting the Covid-19 virus.
Quebec public health workers who refuse redeployment threatened with firing
Instead, the government is using the decree they adopted last month that allows the health authority to mandatorily redeploy staff to CHSLDs where needed. Any vacations are cancelled, part-time staff are being forced to work full-time and all unpaid leave is stopped – and the transfers are mandatory or employees risk losing their job if they refuse to work.
Why is the government not forcing the ‘missing’ CHSLD workers back to their jobs instead? Why are they not being asked to provide their reasons for not showing up? They are the health care workers with the professional experience for the tasks at hand. Many of the non-medical workers have absolutely no experience in this field and they are being asked to change diapers, wash residents, feed them, transfer from a bed to a wheelchair – among other things. PAB’s (Préposée Aux Bénéficiaires – Patient Attendants) have special training for this, not speech therapists. Yes, they are being given a two-hour training session – a video showing them how wear a mask, a gown and a face shield. Two women who attended a session found the ‘woefully inadequate’ according to a CBC report. There were concerns about the type of protective gear they will be given. And the nurses who gave the training said they ‘didn’t have enough personal protection equipment for them to practice during the training session’. Some of those attending ended up in tears. However, the government believes the training is sufficient, as the employees are being assigned to assist orderlies.
Given the government’s track record to date, it gives cause for concern. More disconcerting is the government forcing these people, making it mandatory for them to accept the redeployment – under threat of losing their jobs. Many of these non-medical workers have children at home or elderly parents. Others have compromised immune systems. What about the stress and anxiety it can cause? The word ‘dictatorship’ has been circulating on social media about the way this is being handled. Is forcing these workers to do these things, to travel to other regions or even do night shifts, right? Or is it completely unfair?