Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, CUPE 1974, the union representing workers at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), is expressing feelings of frustration with how the Ford government has handled the pandemic.
Staff at KHSC say they are exhausted and burned out.
Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), says that protective gear against COVID-19, such as N95 masks, is not provided to KHSC workers as much as it still needs to be.
KHSC denied that claim in a statement, and said that to date, none of its health-care workers have caught COVID-19 in the workplace.
“The safety of all staff as essential health care workers is a top priority at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), which means we ensure that the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to everyone who needs it, when they need it and where they need it.”
CUPE and OCHU are also calling on the Ford government to recognize that COVID-19 is an airborne disease, to provide the necessary personal protective equipment and pay for exposure or illness due to the novel coronavirus.
“We haven’t had much success with the provincial government on the issue of the airborne virus. We’ve gone to court over this; we’ve been pressuring them for months. They continue to take the view that the virus is primarily transmitted through droplets and contact,” Hurley says.
In a statement released Thursday, CUPE shared that about 8,000 health-care workers in Ontario have contracted the virus between March and November of last year. That number nearly doubled to 15,000 as of this week.
The unions are also demanding paid sick leave for their workers if they’re exposed to COVID-19, or even for issues like exhaustion.
“This is the minimum the government can do to show that they’ve got hospital workers’ backs,” says Barb DeRoche, president of CUPE 1974.
“In other occupations, this wouldn’t happen. The health-care force is asked to face potential hazards capable of killing or disabling their life. Yet the worker is completely on their own if they’re exposed,” Deroche says.
KHSC said it “strongly supports” pay for “any staff member who is required to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.”
“We also continue to work closely with the provincial government to expedite wage enhancements for personal support workers,” KHSC said.
The hospital organization said it is “extremely proud” of how its staff have reacted to the pandemic.
“We are incredibly grateful for the hard work and dedication of all KHSC staff members to providing high-quality patient care to Kingston-area residents and beyond.”
Friday, Ontario is reporting 2,662 new COVID-19 cases, with only 11 active cases in the Kingston community.