A health-care union is crying foul after learning Seven Oaks General Hospital will cut full-time hours for 32 workers this fall.
The support staff are among 169 workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees who received deletion notices at the northwest Winnipeg hospital — which is converting its emergency department into an urgent care centre in September.
That means the positions are being cut, but the employees are eligible to apply for other positions. But when those 32 support workers looked through new staff rotations for the fall, they found no full-time positions available to them, CUPE 204 president Debbie Boissonneault said Wednesday.
“It kind of made me sick to my stomach,” Boissonneault said of her initial reaction.
“These people have to pay for their houses. They have to pay their mortgages. They have to buy food. They have to continue to live,” she said. “For [the health authority] to not make any full-time positions is really hard.”
New schedules based on need: WRHA
She said there are a number of part-time positions — at 0.8 full-time equivalent or less — they can apply for, but the affected support staff are frustrated.
“The health care aides that actually get the patients up in the morning — they wash them, they walk them, they feed them, they do some physio stuff with them — all of those people, not one of them will have a full-time job in those new areas of the hospital,” she said.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority developed the new schedules based on the “operational needs of the site,” according to a spokesperson, who said full-time positions remain elsewhere at the hospital.
“Our intent remains developing schedules that best meet the needs for patient care.”
The WRHA added most of the staff who received deletion notices already work part-time hours. They all work in the urgent care, medicine and geriatric rehabilitation wards.
The elimination of full-time work has been described by health-care officials as a “funding issue,” Boissonneault said, but she said the WRHA did not provide further clarity.
Some CUPE members are thinking of resigning so they can find a full-time position elsewhere, she said.
“They’re just so upset that they don’t know which way to turn.”
The status of the 169 workers represented by CUPE 204 is in flux as they await the process of filling new positions at the hospital based on seniority.
Boissonneault described the adjustments, which start next Monday, as a “bumping” process, through which employees choose new staff rotations. First choices are offered to senior staff, and younger workers may be left out.
She wrote a letter calling on Health Minister Cameron Friesen to reverse course on the planned closure of the ER, before the “disruptive and demoralizing” filling of positions takes place.
“Once we go down this path, it will be very difficult to turn back time, and with morale so low we are very concerned for the well-being of our members,” Boissonneault said in the letter.
ER on fragile ground
Residents hoped the ER would be saved when Dr. David Peachey was hired to review the second phase of Winnipeg’s hospital reorganization plan — a reorganization launched by the province in 2017, based on Peachey’s initial recommendations.
However, Peachey’s Phase 2 review recommended continuing with the ER closures, including the Seven Oaks conversion, but changing the timeline if the risk assessment suggests that’s needed.
Peachey’s report said the sustainability of Seven Oaks’ ER is at risk because emergency department staff are seeking work elsewhere to avoid the hospital’s uncertainty.
The same staffing woes prompted the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to expedite the closure of Concordia Hospital’s ER — also converted to an urgent care centre — by three weeks.
“By continuing on the path of closing the Seven Oaks ER and [intensive care unit], this government is only going to make a bad plan worse,” Boissonneault said in her letter.
The province’s health minister has previously said hiring Peachey demonstrates the government is listening to concerns and willing to make adjustments when needed.
He argued the province must continue to overhaul a health-care system plagued by long wait times.