Dan Murphy – President
I would like to give a warm hello to a very deserving membership, This, to say the least, has been a very challenging year for the union, mental health and addictions, and the nurses who work within it. A Health Sector Collective agreement based on “Safe Patient Care = Safe Staffing” was bargained that was designed to help with workload and safety issues, by way of staffing levels. Excellent staffing language was bargained for, that is supposed to support this by requiring employers to replace nurses on vacations, maternity leaves, short and long term leaves, along with backfilling community mental health nurses for two weeks of their vacations. Many other language gains were made to help with safety concerns such as new PRF language and changes to the make- up of the Occupational Health and Safety committees. By all accounts this was a good collective agreement bargained for during a very challenging time for the province of British Columbia. As always, the Nurses Bargaining Association (NBA) led the way in achieving for the nurses who provide the gold standard of care to those who access our health care system. Unfortunately the health authorities who worked with us to develop this collective agreement seemed to have their hands tied by the government of the day, the Liberals. It seems a lack of funding from the government has led to many lengthy delays in the implementation of many of the principle areas bargained.
Many of the changes that have been implemented by many of the health authorities were never part of the Health Sector Collective, but rather attempts to wrap mental health system around an existing medical model. Community nurses have been told they must now function within cookie cutter hours (8:30-4:30) across many of the health authorities, so as to optimize office hours. This means RPN’s who were volunteering to work outside those cookie cutter hours, to meet the needs of clients who hold jobs or can only access services outside the 8:30-4:30 hours , will not be able to meet the needs of those clients anymore. Despite excellent rotations and well documented rationales for same put forward by the community nurses, both Forensic and regular community nurses, it seems the health authorities are set to implement rotations they may limit many successfully community integrated consumers. The changes in shift rotations in the community to cookie cutter hours will be, as believed by many, a failure to the consumers. I was told at one meeting with the front line managers who were delivery the rational for the changes in community nursing office hours, consumers who fall outside the 8:30-4:30 office hours make up only a small minority of those who access mental health and addiction services. I say shame on those who don’t consider all people worthy of consideration and accommodation. Our nurses have been working extended hours for years at straight rates to meet the needs of all those who need access to mental health and addiction services. Hospitals are open 24 hours a day if you have a medical problem and addiction services do home detox, drop in detox, or inpatient but in mental health, the choice can be the emergency room or a jail cell. Now that’s harm reduction at its worst!
I have spent a lot of time on the road, talking to our members. Like me, they are extremely angry with their employer and the health authority their employer falls into. The move to a 37.5 hour work week was done to give existing nurses the extra time to finish work within their regular work hours without having to stay behind and work for free as reported by an overwhelming amount of RPNs. The increase to 37.5 hour week was bargained to shore up existing nursing hours and help the employer begin to hire the nurses needed to meet the workload problems and set up safe staffing levels. We were to see existing vacancies filled. The combining of casual and OT hours were to create full time positions along with vacation relief pools. Instead, the displacement of nurses has again increased the workload per nurse.
The two nurses unions, UPN and BCNU, are continuing to meet and sit with the interior health authorities to discuss workload, staffing levels, and safety issues. We have met several times in Kamloops for the Hillside tertiary facility and have walked away with the same rhetoric coming from the managers involved. They continue to claim they are not aware of any safety issues, morale problems, or staffing issues. PRFs continue to fall through the cracks. Clearly, the employer needs a wake- up call of some sort. We have the same problems on Vancouver Island at Seven Oaks and both the UPN and the BCNU will not be sitting back and letting this go by. RPNs working at FPH, Maples, Youth Forensics, and PAC still have ongoing safety issues. Staffing levels are insufficient; safety measures are insufficient, and morale is down. To say the least, there is work to be done. These nurses work in the most difficult areas of mental health and addictions, and deserve support from their workplace not excuses. This was supposed to be a collective agreement where the nurses and the employer share the responsibility of trying to bring the safest and most effective care to the patients, while alleviating ongoing workload problems both in the hospitals and in the community.
I attended the Canadian Federation of Mental Health Nurses conference in Kelowna, where we had our booth set up. Several of our Kelowna and Kamloops nurses were able to take in the conference. It was a very good conference and spoke to many significant challenges mental health and addictions nurses and consumers face here in Canada. I had the pleasure of meeting most of the Kelowna RPNs. I was very impressed to hear this group meets monthly on their own to discuss their profession and challenges at the workplace. It’s this sort of dedication that makes RPNs the profession of choice for mental health and addictions. We were proud to have the UPN banner carried by our Tiger (Les) Robinson who marched for the UPN at the Pride Parade held in Vancouver and was joined by some of our UPN members and families. Thank you Tiger!
Has the government of BC and the health authorities within it, not woken up to what the rest of Canadians know? We have a serious deficiency in mental health and addiction resources. The old Riverview Hospital Grounds and facilities sit empty and unused. This could be a mental health and addictions teaching hospital of excellence as they have in Toronto. Patients are being forced into seeking shelter on the streets or are ending up in city jails. These people are our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and sons or daughters. THEY MATTER! We need a properly structured mental health and addiction services system with the appropriate people working within it. The nurses continue to do their part; it’s time for the government and employers to do theirs.
- In Solidarity,
- Dan Murphy President, UPN