Health workers at Community Care Access Centres across the province took to the picket lines on Friday, Jan. 30.
There are more than 420 care co-ordinators employed by the South West Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) who are now on strike, including those in Oxford County (Oxford Care Coordinators).
The Ontario Nurses’ Association, which represents the community health workers, had been trying to negotiate a new contract since the last collective agreement expired at the end of March 2014.
In-home care continues for CCAC patients, since nurses, personal support workers and therapists working with the centres are not impacted by the strike. Non-unionized CCAC workers will be filling the role of the care coordinators who are on strike.
“We’ve been working for several months now, really hard, at our contingency plan that we implemented (on Jan. 30)," said Sandra Coleman, CEO of the South West CCAC. "So there are lots of CCAC employees and home care team members who aren’t on strike, and that’s how we’re working hard to make sure there’s no disruption to patient care.”
A strike of this size is unprecedented for health workers, said Mary Joan Kivell, the union representative for the Oxford centre.
“Other nurses in the province are essential service, they’re not a right-to-strike unit, and we are the only right to strike unit, which is kind of amazing that we’re not deemed essential as well,” she said.
“The bottom line is we’ve had enough,” Kivell said.
Care co-ordinators are most often registered nurses themselves, but their role at CCAC is to manage patient care. That could mean support for those moving into or out of the hospital, setting up care for newly referred clients, and managing in-school therapy for kids with medical issues.
“We just want enough of us to do the job well,” said Karen Peat, a care co-ordinator at the Oxford CCAC.
The president of the bargaining unit for the South West CCAC said the union wants to negotiate a wage increase that mirrors the deal of other health care professionals like hospital nurses
“What we are asking for is a reasonable, negotiated wage increase,” said Caroline McWhinney.
“We’re asking no different than what ONA has been able to negotiate across the province in long term care as well as hospitals, a similar wage increase,” she said.
“Our care coordinators are highly skilled people and we count on them very much to support the patient transitions that happen and the patient flow that happens and supporting that home care role with patients,” said Coleman.
“But we also have the reality of making sure that we balance our precious financial resources that we have to ensure as much is available for patient care as possible,” she said.
As the population ages and more health care services are required at a community level, stress has mounted on the community care provider.
“We feel that there’s the workload, increased demands and anything else, but we don’t feel that we’ve asked for huge changes,” said McWhinney.
They provide care to patients in their homes, in hospitals, in schools, and especially as people travel between those environments, such as returning home from the hospital, or moving into a nursing home after a hospital visit.
It was a chilly day for picketers from the Oxford CCAC. Working without care managers could spell doom for an older community like Oxford, they said.
“The hospital is going to be a problem,” said Lisa Eichler, a care co-ordinator on the picket line in Woodstock.
“I work at the hospital and that’s going to be a problem, getting people out of the hospital. The beds are going to be blocked.”