Patient care team calls for greater recognition and respect

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More than 160 HEU members who provide direct patient care in BC’s health facilities met in Richmond on September 26 and 27 to discuss a range of issues affecting their work and determine priorities for the next round of bargaining.

Wages, a shorter work-week, job security, workload and benchmarks topped a long list of demands identified during small group and plenary sessions. But by far the overriding theme from attending delegates was a consistent call for greater recognition of their professionalism and the demanding roles they play in health care.

In the face of escalating bed and staff shortages, inadequate budgets, and ongoing crisis management in both acute and long-term care, delegates from all occupations within the patient care team spoke out about the lack of time they have to do their jobs and the mounting levels of stress they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

LPNs, who are now working to full scope practice, are increasingly becoming the “bedside nurse” — providing care to patients whose outcomes are not always predictable. And given ongoing pressures affecting the quality of services throughout the system, these nurses also want a professional responsibility clause so they have a process to help protect patient care.

In addition to patient transfers, porters are now expected to relay critical medical information between other members of the health care team.

Care aides, who are managing patients and residents with higher acuity levels, are regularly being asked to take on additional duties previously done by LPNs.

Activity aides, social work assistants and rehab assistants are handling increased client and patient loads and in many cases have been given expanded responsibilities for documentation and charting, with no additional time to complete those tasks.

And all are struggling to fill gaps, support family members and other staff, advocate for patients and residents, and deal with the effects of ongoing systems change, contracting-out and inadequate managerial support.

In spite of all this, delegate after delegate also talked about their deep commitment to patients and their willingness to give 100 per cent, and more, to help make sure the care they receive is the best it can be.

As one delegate so eloquently said, “Even after everything we’ve been through — the wage rollbacks, the lack of respect shown us by this government — we are always there for our patients. Because if we aren’t, it’s they who will suffer.”

HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy commended delegates for the tremendous work they do, across the patient care team, and thanked them for the “incredible passion, humor, creativity and conviction” they brought to the two-day forum.

She urged delegates to take the work of the conference back to their colleagues and their locals and in the weeks and months ahead to help get the word out to politicians and the public about the critical work they do in health care. And she thanked them for their commitment to rebuilding strength, trust and unity across the union.

Attending delegates will report back to their peers at the local level. Bargaining priorities developed during the conferences will go back to union locals, who will bring recommendations forward to HEU’s Wage Policy Conference on January 9 and 10, 2006.