All await final word on closure of St. Mary’s Hospital

Community and health care workers gear up for fight

Health care workers at St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster are in limbo until Minister of Health Services Colin Hansen brings down his decision on the closure of the 115-year-old facility.

Adding to their uncertainty is the issue of seniority and job security. Earlier this week, with the Labour Relations Board’s decision on regional seniority rights, many HEU members learned that their seniority rights if displaced would not be restricted to their place of work. But the workers at St. Mary’s Hospital are not covered by this decision, because the facility is a stand-alone facility run by the Sisters of Providence.

However, HEU will be taking this to the Labour Relations Board, saying that, in fact, the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) is the true employer and that St. Mary’s workers should be able to enjoy this protection that shelters other health care workers from the draconian seniority and bumping provisions of Bill 29.

“The best protection from being thrown out of work, however, remains the fight to keep the facility open,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “That’s why the workers are involved with the community in fighting against closing this hospital that’s been providing high quality health care for so many years.”

The uncertainty for the St. Mary’s workers and for the community of New Westminster began on July 10, 2002 when the FHA announced plans to withdraw all funding from the hospital, signaling the closure of a facility that has been providing health care services since 1887.

When the health authority served the hospital board with notice that it intended to terminate its contract with St. Mary’s, it sparked cries of outrage from the workers, hospital administration and the community, who all vowed to stop the closure.

The hospital invoked a clause in its affiliation agreement with FHA that provides for an appointed panel to review any such moves. The three-person panel will file its report with the minister of health, and he is to hand down a decision about the closure.

Meanwhile, the people who work at the hospital don’t know if it will remain open, and they don’t know what will happen to them if it closes. Their status is far from clear.

“The decision of the minister and the developments at the Labour Relations Board are still pending, so the fight to keep St. Mary’s open is the one concrete action that HEU members and other workers can take right now,” says Allnutt.