Backgrounder on the Joint Statement on Principles for Protecting the Health and Safety of Healthcare Workers, Patients, Clients and Residents
Over the past months, health care workers across the country have been united in their call for access to appropriate and adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Saskatchewan health care workers are not an exception to that call. It is not unreasonable for any health care worker to expect safety for themselves and for those they care for.
HSAS has spoken to this critical issue at daily meetings with the Ministry of Health and the SHA, at HSAS Union/Management meetings and member by member when concerns have been brought forward. The PPE access concerns raised over the days and weeks have been common to all healthcare unions.
At the end of March, all healthcare unions began meeting together to discuss these concerns and on April 6, 2020, the unions sent a Joint Statement to the Premier of Saskatchewan, Minister of Health, Minister of Rural and Remote Health, and to the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
The Statement asked for two things- the first request was for union representation on the newly formed provincial Personal Protection Equipment Task Force and the second was for the Ministry of Health and the SHA to commit to a proposed set of shared health and safety standards when dealing with suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 patients. The goal from the beginning of this process was to achieve a commitment that would add clarity and a level of certainty for our members working through Covid-19.
The Unions received a response on Thursday, April 9, 2020 – that response was provided by the Deputy Minister of Health, Max Hendricks. His letter indicated that the Unions’ concerns should be addressed at the Safety Partnership Advisory Group (SPAG) and asked the unions for their willingness to meet with SPAG.
SPAG includes representation from the SHA, Ministry of Health, WCB, Saskatchewan Association of Safe Workplaces in Health (SASWH), healthcare unions, as well as other parties. This advisory group was formed last year and its charter states that it is to advise on the SHA Quality & Safety Plan and identify opportunities for collaboration and partnership within the context of the safety plan. For the purposes of the Joint Statement discussions, the meetings were held with a sub-group of SPAG.
The healthcare unions agreed to meet with SPAG – with the view of attaining the commitment of the Ministry of Health and the SHA to the Unions’ proposed Joint Statement. The first discussions took place at a meeting on April 16, 2020 with subsequent meetings over the weeks that followed. Extensive discussion focused on the need for clarity as to what health and safety standards should be observed when dealing with suspected, presumed, or confirmed Covid-19 patients as well as outlining the assurance of timely access to appropriate PPE. Additional discussion identified the unions’ role in representing their front-line members in any challenges and planning as related to PPE and the need for the parties to the Joint Statement to work together collaboratively through those challenges.
Following the weeks of meetings and discussion, agreement was reached on the concerns as outlined above. Signing of the Joint Statement took place on May 20, 2020 with all unions, the SHA and the Ministry of Health as signatories.
Click here to read the agreed to Joint Statement on Principles for Protecting the Health and Safety of Healthcare Workers, Patients, Clients and Residents.
To all HSAS Members:
Today, HSAS, along with CUPE, SGEU, SEIU-West, and SUN, entered into a temporary Letter of Understanding (LOU) with the SHA and SAHO.
The main focus of the LOU is to provide agreed-to guidelines that will govern the use of a Labour Pool and movement of members during the province’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as outline the protection provided to those members. Other provinces have imposed legislation which has suspended certain provisions found within collective agreements. HSAS chose to participate in a negotiated process with the goal of achieving a better outcome for our members.
The health care unions were initially approached by the SHA on April 8, 2020. At that time the SHA put forward a proposed draft LOU. Over the next 6 days all parties met at length, with the goal of reaching an agreement on the provisions that would be contained within the LOU. The final draft was reached on April 15. The LOU was reviewed by HSAS Executive Council on April 16 and was passed. Final signatures were provided today by all parties to the agreement.
Prior to the signing of this LOU, a number of HSAS members as well as other unions’ members had been directed to move from their usual worksites and job duties to assume different roles at different sites.
This movement occurred for two main reasons: the first being a closing of or slowdown in their usual worksite and the second, an identified need for members to fill different roles such as at Testing Sites.
There was a lack of clarity and consistency in how the movement of those members was executed. From across the province we received calls and emails from members who were seeking answers to their questions. Central to those questions was concern, anxiety and fear. Members wanted to help the fight but also wanted to be assured that they would have access to appropriate PPE, that they would have appropriate training for any new tasks, and that their professional scope of practice would be respected. It was clear that the existing confusion was not conducive to successfully defending against this pandemic.
Negotiating the temporary LOU was an opportunity to provide a thoughtful guide to our members and their managers alike.
To all HSAS members:
Since our last update of March 19, HSAS has continued to meet with representatives of the SHA and the Ministry of Health. All other healthcare unions also participated in these meetings. There has been frustration and concern in that a number of our respective members have had their workplaces, job duties and at times, hours of work changed. Almost without exception, those changes happened without consultation with the members’ unions, as per collective agreements.
Members have been told that they have been deemed essential or non-essential. To date, no definitions have been provided and no discussions have taken place prior to our members being advised of their ‘status’.
There appears to have been a militarization of the SHA response to Covid-19. Where previously, SHA labour relations would have respected the Collective Agreements and met with unions to discuss planned initiatives prior to enacting them, that is not the pattern which we have seen to this point. Actions have been taken in our members’ workplaces on directives issued from someone, somewhere. We are hearing terms such as redeployment, field hospitals, and cohorts.
Personal safety and access to appropriate PPE remains top of mind for many of our members. This is not unreasonable and membership should not be made to feel that it is. If Covid-19 is the enemy, then no one should be going into battle unarmed.
Throughout the confusion, members have continued to email and to phone HSAS labour relations with their concerns and questions. Where possible and where existing, we have sought out answers and advocated on their behalf. Sometimes the answers are forthcoming; sometimes there are no adequate answers provided or explanations for actions taken. We fully understand that we are in uncharted waters. However, the Collective Agreement should be respected and serve as a guide for how to proceed through the days and weeks ahead. It should not be disrespected and ignored.
Please know that we will continue to advocate on your behalf, giving voice to your questions and concerns. As we have stated previously- as we receive ‘confirmed’ information , we will share it with our membership.
To All HSAS Members:
Yesterday, our province declared a State of Emergency in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19. The past week has seen an incredible amount of shifting and evolving information both from our provincial government and our Employers. Many questions have been received from our members. Members are struggling to make sense of what is happening in their workplaces and in their personal lives.
On a daily basis HSAS and all other healthcare unions have been meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority and your concerns and questions have been asked.
We have relayed your concerns of managers putting forward directives which contradict directives issued by powers above them- such as insisting on continuing business as usual with crowded waiting rooms, face to face therapy and treatment sessions and group sessions.
We have challenged the decision to direct asymptomatic members returning from travel prior to March 16th, to return into their workplaces without self-isolating for 14 days as is the expectation of every other resident in this province.
We have challenged the level of PPE protection available to our members and the accessibility to appropriate equipment when it is needed.
We have raised the concerns of members who have questions about how to care for their children when schools are closed.
We have listened to the Employer speak on labour pools and redeployment when the services our members currently provide are suspended, leaving them without their daily work. We have been informed that the Ministry will be meeting with licensing/regulatory bodies to discuss re-licensing of those professionals not currently licensed to practice as well as reviewing scope of practice which could allow for assistance in other areas of healthcare where resources may be needed.
This is not an exhaustive list.
We wish that we had more definitive answers to your questions and concerns. Please be assured that we are hearing you and in turn ensuring that both the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority hear your concerns. As we receive those answers, we will share them.
To All HSAS Members:
As every one of you is already aware, yesterday saw the announcement of the first presumptive positive case of the Covid-19 virus in Saskatchewan. There is no question that everyone has been affected personally through news stories and more recently through their professional life.
HSAS is cognizant of the uncertainties that are evident everywhere in our province and our workplaces.
Earlier today HSAS notified its members by email that effective March 16, 2020, HSAS Labour Relations Officers would be working on a remote basis, as would HSAS office administration staff. This will help ensure that HSAS Labour Relations services remain intact and available to meet our members’ needs going forward.
This email also serves to inform HSAS members that HSAS is meeting with Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) representatives on a daily basis. Information is shared by the SHA and all unions present on the calls have the opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns.
Our Labour Relations Officers have been receiving member questions. Some of those questions we are able to answer. Those which we do not have answers for have been communicated to the SHA representatives. We have requested answers and as we receive them, we will post the questions and answers to the website to allow all members to access the information provided.
It is expected that all employers of HSAS members will ensure the health and safety of our members by observing all safety guidelines and recommendations.
Government of Saskatchewan website: www.saskatchewan.ca/coronavirus.