Or­der for health-care work­ers costs no jobs, means a pay in­crease for some

Vancouver Sun - - OPIN­ION - VAUGHN PALMER vpalmer@post­

B.C. moved this week to pre­vent health-care work­ers from staffing more than one long-term care fa­cil­ity, a month af­ter Dr. Bonnie Henry first flagged the prac­tice as a fac­tor in the spread of COVID-19.

“As of to­day it is of­fi­cial,” the pro­vin­cial health of­fi­cer an­nounced Thurs­day. “We have been us­ing or­ders to im­ple­ment a process to make it pos­si­ble for care work­ers — health-care work­ers of all kinds — to work at a sin­gle site only.”

But the process is not yet com­pleted, ac­cord­ing to Health Min­is­ter Adrian Dix.

The “sin­gle-site tran­si­tion frame­work” will be im­ple­mented “in the com­ing days” by the Health Min­istry in con­sul­ta­tion with the af­fected re­gions, unions and pub­lic and pri­vate em­ploy­ers.

The process is com­pli­cated and it will also be ex­pen­sive. Dix es­ti­mated the tab for im­ple­men­ta­tion at $10 mil­lion a month so long as the new regime is in place. Most of the money will go to en­sur­ing that health work­ers won’t have to take a cut in pay or hours as they are con­fined to staffing a sin­gle fa­cil­ity.

The ra­tio­nale for the move was ev­i­dent with Thurs­day’s fig­ures on the out­break, re­leased at the same time as the an­nounce­ment from Dr. Henry and Dix.

B.C. has some 235 cases of COVID-19 as­so­ci­ated with long-term care and as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties. The tally in­cludes 143 res­i­dents and 92 staff.

More­over, 60 per cent of the deaths in B.C. have been of res­i­dents in long-term care.

“Res­i­dents of long-term care and as­sisted liv­ing are very vul­ner­a­ble to COVID-19,” Dr. Henry ex­plained.

“What we are try­ing to do is make sure that the work­ers who pro­vide the ser­vice to peo­ple in long-term care are able to work at a sin­gle fa­cil­ity.”

Staff work­ing in mul­ti­ple fa­cil­i­ties is a prob­lem the New Democrats in­her­ited from the pre­vi­ous B.C. Lib­eral gov­ern­ment.

But as Dr. Henry also ac­knowl­edged Thurs­day, “this is some­thing we have rec­og­nized from the very be­gin­ning of this out­break.

“The chal­lenges that we have with health-care work­ers of all kinds need­ing to work at mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent fa­cil­i­ties makes it such a chal­lenge to try to con­trol out­breaks. That has been brought to the fore­front dur­ing this pan­demic in many ways. And it is a part of the tragedy with the mul­ti­ple long-term care fa­cil­ity out­breaks.”

She rec­og­nized the prob­lem in her daily me­dia brief­ings as far back as March 9. “We are very aware of that and it is a chal­lenge with our sys­tem — health care work­ers work in many dif­fer­ent fa­cil­i­ties some­times.” It was the day she an­nounced the first COVID-19 death in B.C., that of a man in his 80s who had been a res­i­dent at the ill-fated Lynn Val­ley Care cen­tre.

She also dis­closed that one health-care worker, who had worked in at least two fa­cil­i­ties, had be­come in­fected.

The min­istry would be fol­low­ing up with con­tact trac­ing of the in­fected worker and look deeper into the prob­lem of work­ers staffing more than one fa­cil­ity, she pledged.

By March 20, Dr. Henry was re­port­ing that 18 health-care work­ers had be­come in­fected and there were now nine deaths, eight of them as­so­ci­ated with the out­break in the Lynn Val­ley cen­tre.

She was asked whether pro­hi­bi­tions were now in place to pre­vent staff from mov­ing be­tween fa­cil­i­ties.

Or were they still able to do that?

“Very good ques­tions,” replied Dr. Henry.

Ap­pro­pri­ate steps had been taken in the fa­cil­i­ties di­rectly im­pacted by the out­break. But not across the board.

“We have been work­ing on that for the last week. We are in the process of or­der­ing and I have had staff from the Min­istry of Health look at how we can man­age so that for all long-term care homes — par­tic­u­larly in the Lower

Main­land, given the risk that we are see­ing — the staff are as­signed to a sin­gle fa­cil­ity.” That was three weeks ago. In the in­terim, she has is­sued or­ders that have shut hun­dreds of busi­nesses and cost thou­sands of work­ers their jobs.

Why is this or­der — which costs no jobs and ac­tu­ally means a pay in­crease for some health-care work­ers — tak­ing so long to im­ple­ment?

“It’s com­pli­cated,” said Dr. Henry.

“It was re­ally a mat­ter of un­der­stand­ing the prob­lem where peo­ple were; how many were work­ing at dif­fer­ent ar­eas. Be­ing able to pull all that data to­gether was one of the first steps that we did. That hap­pened over the last cou­ple of weeks. And to un­der­stand peo­ple’s pref­er­ences was an­other part of it, so there’s a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

Most of those ne­go­ti­a­tions were with unions in the health-care sec­tor, I pre­sume. Dix said the frame­work im­pacts pro­vi­sions in 50 to 60 col­lec­tive agree­ments and some 4,200 work­ers will “have where they are work­ing change.”

“In some health author­i­ties, this has hap­pened more quickly than oth­ers,” said the min­is­ter. “But it is an ex­cep­tional change.”

Both he and Dr. Henry said one goal was to en­sure that work­ers could ex­er­cise their pref­er­ence for a place to work, with­out hav­ing to worry about a loss of in­come.

The work-in-one-place or­der is ef­fec­tive only for the du­ra­tion of the pan­demic.

But Dr. Henry says that ev­ery year the flu was be­ing spread by staff mov­ing be­tween care fa­cil­i­ties. So it is hard to imag­ine the sys­tem will go back to the way things were be­fore the cur­rent out­break.

Most of the money will go to en­sur­ing that health work­ers won’t have to take a cut in pay or hours as they are con­fined to staffing a sin­gle fa­cil­ity.

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