A few weeks ago, I started a tour of Quebec. By the end of June, I will have visited almost every region in the province. I can tell you from first-hand experience, Quebec is big, and thanks to the meaningful exchanges, this tour is truly an enriching experience. There’s nothing better than getting out in person to healthcare institutions to understand the reality of healthcare professionals.
To date, I have visited centres of activity in the Nord-de-l’Île de Montréal, the Laurentians, Québec City, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Mauricie, Centre-du-Québec, Bas-Saint-Laurent and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. I meet nurses, licensed practical nurses and respiratory therapists, of course, but I also meet with patients, other employees in the health network, local stakeholders and elected officials. It’s incredible how much information I am receiving. Every region has its own specific needs and issues. For example, there are medical care shortages in regions where the territory is vast, such as Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Bas-Saint-Laurent and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. In these regions, like in the Laurentians, healthcare professionals and patients often have to travel great distances. In situations that are even less stable, with understaffed care teams, it creates a lot of challenges and problems.
Of course, wherever I go I talk about the implementation of the safe healthcare professional-to-patient ratios. It always generates a great deal of hope and enthusiasm. The question I hear the most is, “When will we get one at my facility, in my department?” Healthcare professionals know that ratios are the best solution for achieving safe, quality patient care and better team stability. It is also a way to improve the recruitment and retention of professionals and make the most of their skills and expertise. They also feel that the ratios will help to eliminate work overloads and the subsequent mandatory overtime hours, as well as reduce overtime and independent labour.
All too often, I feel enraged by the stories I hear on tour. They clearly illustrate the negative consequences of bad decisions, budget cuts and austerity for which healthcare professionals pay the price. Every stop on this tour enables me to write another page in our Black Book of Care Safety. A licensed practical nurse told me she did mandatory overtime three times in one week. A nurse told me she worked 23 hours in a row. A respiratory therapist was forced to work mandatory overtime in a unit she didn’t know. A nurse in a CHSLD was taking care of 70 patients alone and on the verge of tears.
I have heard hundreds of stories like these. And what adds insult to injury is the fact that in several of these situations, the employer is still asking members for more concessions. Employers want to create positions without a home base, without a notion of a work shift, some are asking for more scheduling flexibility, while others refuse to do what it takes to add more full-time positions. A lot of managers are in denial and don’t seem to understand a thing.
It’s not surprising that mobilization around local negotiations is growing everywhere. Healthcare professionals are angry and have every right to be. All of our unions are working hard to negotiate better working conditions. They have several solutions to put on the table. This is my message to institution managers: negotiate in favour of the interests of patients and healthcare professionals. If you found that this winter was hard, you may have to brace yourself for a challenging spring—because we won’t let up!