Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Senior's death ends strike in nursing home

The government has appointed a Public Emergency Tribunal (PET) to resolve the seniors care strike at the Revera Riverbend extended care facility that has run more than 70 days. This strike is part of a series of job actions by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) to get private seniors care providers to match wages offered by public providers.

The unfortunately termed “PET” can be created by the government under ss.112 and 113 of the Labour Relations Code when a strike or a lockout causes health services to be reduced (or ceased) or causes unreasonable hardship to persons not party to the dispute. The strike or lockout ends and the dispute is resolved through arbitration.

PETs are unusual, in part because the government got slapped pretty hard by the court in 2002 when it used one inappropriately to end a teacher strike. In this case, there are reports that replacement workers refused to call 911 for a resident who claimed to be having a stroke, the resident eventually went to hospital (after a 911 call by a relative of another resident) and died.

The government doesn’t mention this incident in its press release—not surprising given the heat it has taken for other deaths in care that have happened on its watch. Rather, it asserts that weekly monitoring by Alberta Health Services identified “a number of deficiencies in the care of the 120 residents.” I

Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk specifically denies any relationship between the death and the PET:
Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the province decided in intervene after an inspection on Aug. 8th found deterioration in the quality of care, particularly in charting and medication, which he attributed to a high turnover of replacement workers. 
The strike wasn't ended until Tuesday because province needed to follow a legal process under the labour code. 
"This is the earliest that we ... could have done so," Lukaszuk said. 
Lukaszuk said the woman's death was not the reason the province decided to step in.
"A review of quality of care to that particular patient has been done and we are satisifed that that this strike had no impact on this particular client," he said.
This statement is a bit hard to believe. All that is required for a PET is an Order in Council. If there was an emergency (with charting and medication errors being very serious) uncovered on August the 8th (last Wednesday), surely a cabinet meeting could (and should) have been held before yesterday to address the situation.

Under the PET, the parties have 21 days to negotiate a solution (with a mediator’s help) or a government-appointed arbitrator will determine the final settlement. AUPE has recently settled two other strikes at long-term care facilities and received significant concessions from employers. You can view the Order in Council here.

-- Bob Barnetson

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