Quebec health-care workers say workplace injuries have increased dramatically, demand government action

Quebec’s health care unions sound the alarm
WATCH: Seven union organizations in the health care sector are sounding the alarm over what they say is a worrying increase in accidents, occupational injuries and burnout among staff working in health care facilities.

Seven different Quebec health-care unions came together on Sunday to tell the government their work is getting more and more dangerous.

They say there are more and more workplace accidents, and demand Quebec do something to protect them.

“Last winter, a nurse lost her baby because she was kicked in the stomach,” said Linda Lapointe, vice-president of the FIQ health workers’ union.

“This is serious. Our people are sick right now,” added Sylvie Nelson, president of the SQEES-FTQ union, at a Sunday morning press conference.

The unions say costs associated with violent acts against workers have gone up by 82 per cent in just the past two years. Between 2014 and 2018, the amount of work hours lost because of both mental and physical injuries went up 34 per cent, going from 3.3 million hours to 4.4 million.

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“Things are increasing hugely. We came together to say enough is enough,” said Jeff Begley of the FSSS-CSN union.

Jessica Goldschlager, an occupational therapist at Ste. Justine Children’s Hospital, said she and her colleagues are having trouble dealing with the emotional stress of working with sick kids. She says since 2015 workers are forced to see more patients and struggle not to reduce the quality of care.

“People are sort of dropping like flies,” she told Global News. “Some are on very long-term medical leave because they’re burnt out.”

The unions are demanding that Quebec’s Employment and Health Ministry take action to address the problem and invest programs to prevent injuries.

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“Prevention is a must if we want to stop the catastrophe we have. It’s time for the government to act now,” said Nelson.

In a statement, Alexandre Lahaie, a spokesperson for Health Minister Danielle McCann, said: “We are preoccupied by this situation, and are working with the Employment Ministry to make things better.”

Lahaie said certain measures have already been taken but acknowledged that more needs to be done to help health-care workers attain a better work-life balance.

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“The heart of our modernization of the Work Health and Safety Law will be prevention. It will be deposited in due course,” said Caroline D’Astous, a spokesperson for Employment Minister Jean Boulet.

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Goldschlager said she wishes workers could get a reduced caseload if they’re going through a difficult period. She also hopes workers will be given more time to mourn when a young patient passes away.

“There’s no space for you to mourn, no space for you to take a break from work. You just have to keep going, seeing all your other patients,” she said.

The unions said in other sectors like construction or manufacturing, the government would deem their working conditions unacceptable, but in health care, they say workers’ health is not a priority.