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Health coalition-hosted town hall attracts small crowd

Posted: April 12, 2016

(April 12, 2016)

By: Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

Thinly stretched and overworked, several nurses at Bluewater Health are considering looking for employment elsewhere: in the United States, says the nurses’ bargaining unit president.

“That’s unfortunate because they are highly qualified, skilled nurses,” said Tracy Steadman.

But the accumulating burnout amid more than 60 registered-nurse job cuts at Bluewater Health in the past 15 months, according to Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) officials, and fear among nurses they could be next, is wearing front-line health-care providers down, Steadman said.

“It’s hard to fight for your patient when you’re also worried for your job at the hospital,” said Sandy, another nurse at Bluewater Health who didn’t give her last name.

She was one in a passionate but tiny turnout at a Sarnia-Lambton Health Coalition-hosted town hall Tuesday about the toll years of provincial funding cutbacks have taken locally and across Ontario.

The cuts at Bluewater Health, including 18 nursing positions this year, have meant a reduction of 120,000 hours in bedside care since early 2015, said ONA VP Vicki McKenna, one of two union executives at the meeting.

Across the province more than 500 nursing positions have been cut so far this year as hospital after hospital faces belt-tightening in the wake of funding reforms from Ontario’s Health Ministry.

“Every person here has to take accountability for their own health and the fight because it is going to get worse,” said Sandy.

“I encourage everyone to fight and talk.”

That was the overarching message from town hall organizer Shirley Roebuck, calling on community members to speak up to their members of parliament and provincial parliament, their friends and neighbours; to get the word out about what’s being done to health care in Ontario.

“That’s one reason we’ve asked you to come out here tonight,” she told the crowd of fewer than 50 at the Sarnia Library Auditorium. “We need help.”

A voluntary referendum is planned through the Ontario Health Coalition later this spring, asking people to “vote” for more hospital funding; but, in the meantime, people interested in getting involved, she said, can also contact her at 519-677-4460.

Meanwhile, the toll of dollars driving health-care decisions has come home to roost for Bob, a local man who wouldn’t give his last name to The Observer, but said his mother recently had a stroke and was taken to Bluewater Health.

“Three days after her stroke, they were already talking about release dates,” he said. “They’re trying to force us out the door, get us out of there as quickly as possible. It has been one struggle.”

Another in the crowd, Bob Steadman, argued nurses need to “get tough; stop working those long hours.

“I think that’s probably what it’s going to take.”

Nurses won’t withdraw patient care, McKenna said, noting there’s no right to strike in hospitals and there’s a nursing college standard not to withdraw services.

“We have to figure out something that does not impact their patients,” she said.

Raising voices in opposition to ongoing hospital sector funding cuts is the best course of action, Roebuck said.

“ I would have loved to see hundreds more people our here tonight,” added McKenna, “but you have to start somewhere.”

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