Health care aides at Winnipeg hospitals say morale on the units is at an all-time low as support workers face uncertainty, a shift into shift work and reduced hours in the near future.
Hundreds of letters of deletion were handed out to support staff at the Grace and St. Boniface hospitals last week. The workers who received them have weeks to decide whether to apply for a different job, bump someone with less seniority, or get laid off.
"People are scared, people are worried how they're going to support their families, they're worried about if they're going to have a job left at the end of the day, if they're going to possibly have to bump out a coworker," said Terry Rear, a staffing clerk at a facility in Winnipeg. She also is the director for the health care support services group with the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents staff at the Victoria General Hospital.
But day shift-only schedules are no longer available, replaced by mixtures of days, evening and night shifts, and full-time positions are rare.
"The morale is so low. They're scared, what if they have to start bumping out their coworkers for positions at the end of this, so you know that's a really awful thing too. It's horrible."
The turmoil has been ongoing since the WRHA announced last week that 700 support worker positions will be affected by the latest round of province-wide changes. The employees impacted include health care aides, unit clerical assistants, housekeeping and dietary staff, among others, from the Grace Hospital, Victoria General Hospital, St. Boniface Hospital, the Health Sciences Centre and a few from the Misericordia Health Centre and and Seven Oaks Hospital.
Patient care impacted?
Health care support workers at St. Boniface Hospital said the changes have caused widespread anxiety that has impacted staff attendance and patient care.
"People are scared they're not going to have a job at the end of the day. So you're going in to work and you're nervous and you're wondering if today's going to be the day that you get that deletion notice, so it's having a huge effect. It has an effect on how you do your job and your feelings that you might not be there tomorrow to take care of people," said Rear.
She said disruption is having a ripple effect on other staff and patients, as support workers struggle with the unknowns, such as finding overnight child-care.
Health care aides are involved in all aspects of patient care, from getting people up in the morning, feeding, bathing, changing, and monitoring their condition and wounds.
Unit clerical workers keep their unit and patient care running smoothly, are keepers of patients' charts, and help make sure the patient transitions through the system smoothly, she added.
"They're the foundation of these hospitals," she said.
'Happened too quickly'
Clinton Bowman received his deletion notice last Thursday, informing him that his job would end on Nov. 30.
"Wasn't the greatest week. Tuesday night I didn't sleep much. I didn't feel good," he said. Bowman is a health care aide in the St. Boniface float pool.
He said many of his co-workers are struggling to cope with the changes.
"I think it maybe it happened too quickly, I think if they did it gradually over five to 10 years it would've been a better thought out process," he added.
At St. Boniface Hospital, just over 300 health care aides and 100 unit clerks are in the process of receiving their deletion notices, according to the union representing the support workers, UFCW local 832.
At the Health Sciences Centre, 111 positions have been deleted, with 100 more full-time positions reduced to part-time, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the employees impacted there. At the Grace, just over 100 positions were deleted. Negotiations between them and the authority are ongoing, so staff there have not yet received their letters of deletion.
And at the Victoria General Hospital, 150 positions were deleted, and 115 new ones posted. According to the Manitoba Government and Employees' Union, that means up to 40 jobs are lost.
The workers also face the uncomfortable dilemma of having to bump an aide or clerk with less seniority, or be bumped.
"It didn't feel good. I thought they might be keeping some of the rotations. I think there's very few departments where they did keep the same rotations," said Bowman.
"People were surprised and perhaps a bit overwhelmed and didn't really understand all what's happened yet," he said.
'Long overdue': WRHA
But the province maintains that the changes are necessary to improve the system and reduce wait times.
"Change of this scope is indeed disruptive and difficult, but it's also long overdue," a WRHA spokesperson said in a statement.
"We are working closely with health care sector unions to develop approaches that minimize negative impact to staff, and make periods of uncertainty as brief as possible."
Discussions with support staff at St. Boniface Hospital about their new roles begin on Sept. 25. The employees will transition to their new roles on Dec. 1.
Bowman expects he'll have to take a reduction in hours, but hopes things still turn out OK.
"There's a lot of people at the hospital that maybe left school and worked here all their life," he said.
"A health care aide once told me once you have a job at the hospital, you have a job for life."
For hundreds on the front lines in Winnipeg hospitals, time will tell if that's true.