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Health-care workers’ union goes to Ontario labour relations board over care home outbreaks

A PSW who worked at Altamont Care Community in Scarborough died last week. File / Google Streetview

The union that represents over 60,000 front-line health-care workers is taking more action to protect those working at long-term care facilities hit by COVID-19 outbreaks.

SEIU Healthcare has filed urgent applications with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, saying the province needs to take over three facilities that have been significantly impacted by the novel coronavirus.

That includes Anson Place in Hagersville, Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, and Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke. Altamont is owned by Sienna Senior Living, while both Anson Place and Eatonville are privately owned and operated by Ryyka Care Centres.

Across all three facilities, 68 residents and one staff member have died.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Personal support worker at Toronto nursing home dies of COVID-19

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU, said they went to the labour relations board after the province did not heed their call to take over those facilities.

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“The order that we’re hoping to get from the Ontario Labour Relations Board is that they direct the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to immediately place those three under their control until the labour board is satisfied that the employees and the residents are sufficiently protected,” said Stewart.

She said the actions taken by province so far haven’t been enough.

While there are some long-term care homes that have gone above and beyond in implementing safety procedures, Stewart said the guidelines issued by the province have been largely ignored by the three facilities highlighted by the union.

“Anson Place is a prime example. That employer knew — a week to 10 days before communicating with the front line — that there was a possible COVID-infected person in that home. And when the employees asked about it and asked to wear masks, they were told no.”

Stewart said that’s largely due to public health directives at the time not mandating the use of PPE until someone is showing symptoms, despite the virus’ ability to spread asymptomatically.

“And even when there was a positive outbreak, the employer was negligent in making sure residents were cohorted, put on separate floors, practicing the physical distancing — they did none of that.”

She said Anson Place is down to the ‘bare mininum’ of staffing, with eight PSWs currently working instead of the usual 24.

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“Credit to those workers, they’re giving all they can, but they cannot sustain this, at this rate,” said Stewart.

READ MORE: 24th resident at Hagersville, Ont., care centre dies from COVID-19

In an email to Global News on Monday, Anson Place’s executive director said they’re in the process of bringing on more staff and re-testing those who have been working on the front lines.

“In addition to returning team members, new care staff will be joining the Anson Place team including Physiotherapist Assistants and a Registered Practical Nurse,” wrote Lisa Roth.

“The Hagersville community was also hugely receptive to our call for community support. We have interviews scheduled and plan to orient volunteers directly from the community later this week.”

Roth also said all protocols and directives remain in place, including the ongoing isolation of all residents in their rooms and checking the temperatures of both residents and staff twice a day.

The facility is also conducting further screening on all staff members at the beginning and end of their shifts.

As of Monday, there are currently 47 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases at Anson Place, with 29 in the care residence and 18 in the retirement residence.

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