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Laid-off Campbell River employees face-off with Island Health directors

Brenda Leigh wonders about the quality of care for her mother after all New Horizons employees are laid off in April. - Paul Rudan/The Mirror
Brenda Leigh wonders about the quality of care for her mother after all New Horizons employees are laid off in April.
— image credit: Paul Rudan/The Mirror

Maximizing profits at care homes – like New Horizons – at the expense of the lowest-paid health care employees is a government-made “disaster,” according to Brenda Leigh.

“This is a failed experiment. It doesn’t provide quality care and it doesn’t respect the workers,” said the long-time Area D representative on the Strathcona Regional District.

Leigh has also served many years on the regional hospital board, but on Wednesday morning she put aside her political stripes to talk about something far more important: The health and well-being of her elderly mother who’s a resident at New Horizons in Campbell River where all staff were given layoff notices just before the new year.

During Christmas, Leigh’s mother fractured her pelvis. The recovery is slow and painful, and Leigh has been at New Horizons daily since the accident to provide extra assistance and company. She’s also seen the quality care provided by staff and witnessed their bitter surprise and frustration when the employer handed out notices informing them of layoffs at the 94-bed facility on April 22.

“They (staff) are running and they’re working their guts out,” Leigh told the Island Health Board of Directors. “To get these layoff notices…was just despicable by the owner.”

Leigh’s impassioned speech brought most of the spectators to their feet who had  come to the Maritime Heritage Centre for the board’s general meeting which is routinely held in different Island communities.

Many in the audience are employed at New Horizons and they sported blue buttons which read: “Campbell River cares! Protect quality care, decent jobs at New Horizons.” And they heard that contracting out has already occurred at several down-Island care homes.

However, it doesn’t appear there’s much the board can or will do to support the employees. Dr. Brendan Carr, president and CEO of Island Health, explained the employer has the right in their contract to

subcontract out work, provided they adhere to the quality of care standards spelled out in the agreement.

That led to other questions about how the health authority ensures “quality of care” and the response was there is a series of reports and on-site monitoring that are constantly evaluated.

“Well, you get what you pay for,” Leigh quipped earlier in the meeting.

At the core of the New Horizons issue is employees’ pay and benefits. Care aids start at $18.39 an hour and licensed practical nurses at about $22. Those figures and benefits are expected to decrease when the owner, Vancouver-based Park Place Seniors Living, contracts out services for nurses, care providers, kitchen staff, care takers, etc. As well, any employees who are re-hired stand to lose their seniority.

“Why are we paying public money so that some guy can buy a new Mercedes?” asked   one man.

Why indeed, echoed Leigh who pointed out that New Horizons receives so many dollars per bed from Island Health, so that any “savings” will result in bigger profits for company owners Al and Jenny Jina who operate 17 care facilities in B.C. and Alberta.

“This is a facility funded by public dollars,” Leigh reminded the board. She and others called on the board to protect the health of Island residents, to support current workers and to challenge the provincial government on the contracts which appear to reward owners more than employees.

After the meeting, Terri Griffin spoke with media. She is a director with the Health Employees Union which represents workers at New Horizons, and announced that the union has presented the employer with an alternative plan.

“We believe it covers our cost concerns and it’s fair,” said Griffin who declined to divulge any numbers. Also, on Jan. 13, New Horizons employees received a letter from site manager Connie Luck.

“…once a service provider(s) is selected, current employees will have the first opportunity to apply/be interviewed and have the first right of refusal prior to people who have not yet worked at New Horizons. As we learn more about this we will keep you informed,” she wrote. Luck recommended that employees can get assistance with their resumes at the the North Island Employment Foundation Society.

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