Home-care panel urges fight for public system

October 13, 2011

Being able to live at home is one of the most important determinants of the quality of life for seniors, and Canadians must be prepared to fight for quality home care to help them do that, panelists at the home-care forum at CURC’s 10th Constitutional Convention agreed.

Creeping privatization threatens our standard of living as we age, but Canadians can fight back by working to protect all forms of universal, public health care, they said.

Delegates later approved a resolution calling on the federal government to implement a national home-care program with standards and provisions of core services comparable from province to province.

Panelists Lois Wales, president of the Manitoba Government Employees Union, Danielle Legault, international vice-president for Quebec of the Service Employees International Union and Natalie Mehra, director of the Ontario Health Coalition, presented an overview of home care in their respective provinces and discussed ways to ensure seniors can stay in their homes as they get older.

The panel was chaired by Cecile Casista, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Union Retirees, who co-ordinated the production of a report on the home-care services available in each province. The report formed the basis of CURC’s home-care policy paper.

Manitoba set up the first home-care system in Canada, but had to fight a “full frontal attack” on the system by the Filmon Tory government in the mid-1990s, said Wales. “Vocal and organized public support was crucial to our fight” against the cutbacks, which included a landmark strike by home-care workers in 1996.

The result was “a total and complete victory for the public system,” she said. The Tories abandoned their privatization drive and the strike victory resulted in a stable workforce and better care for seniors at home.

Hear Lois Wales’ full presentation.

Legault pointed out that while demand for home care for seniors is quickly rising in Quebec as the population ages, government cutbacks have meant that funding is totally inadequate. Funds meant for home care are often redirected to cover deficits in other services, she said.

“People can’t afford to pay for these services,” she said. “When the services are not offered, people have to go to shelters. People are no longer able to get help so they go to the hospitals. They can’t be sent home, and that causes overcrowding in the emergency rooms.”

Workers in the sector are seen by the government as “cheap labour,” especially in the private sector, where wages and working conditions are mediocre. “The workers give 150%. They give as much as they can with very few resources.”

“The private sector is not a solution.” She said. “People need services according to their needs and not their pocket books.” She urged Canadians to get involved in the campaigns by the Canadian Labour Congress and provincial federations of labour to defend medicare and public services.

Hear Danielle Legault’s full presentation.

Mehra warned that “our health care system is being stolen from under us by creeping privatization” which gained momentum under the Harris government, with its tax cuts for the rich and service cuts for the other 99% of the population.

Big companies have replaced charitable organizations like the Red Cross and Victorian Order of Nurses in delivering home care because they have the resources to hire lobbyists and take an initial loss to build their monopolies in the sector, she warned.

In cutting hospitals, Harris promised to provide services in the community, but the services never materialized. Instead, with its so-called Local Health Integrated Networks and Community Care Access Centres, the government has built four layers of bureaucracy before one dollar ever reaches the front line workers.

“The time for competition between those who fight for hospital care and those who fight for home care is over,” she said. All Ontarians must unite to fight for the Canada Health Act, existing hospital services and care in the community.

Hear Natalie Mehra’s full presentation

A lively discussion after the presentation allowed members of the audience to report on home care problems in their own provinces.

Watch this web space for video and audio excerpts from the panel discussion and further developments in the debate on home care.

CURC’s home-care panelists:

Danielle Legault

As a beneficiary attendant in a public CHSLD, Sister Danielle Legault became interested in union affairs and began her union career as a delegate in her institution. She then became a member of the local executive committee and served as an instructor for the SQEES-298.

As a beneficiary attendant in a public CHSLD, Sister Danielle Legault became interested in union affairs and began her union career as a delegate in her institution. She then became a member of the local executive committee and served as an instructor for the SQEES-298.

She became a member of the General Council in 1989 and was elected president of her division in October 1993.

In November 1995, Sister Legault was elected corresponding secretary of the SQEES-298. She has also headed different committees, including the beneficiary attendants committee, the nursing assistants committee and the youth committee. She is currently in charge of the committee on women’s living and working conditions and the social delegate’s network.

Sister Legault also represents her union on the FTQ’s committee on women’s living and working conditions, and SEIU Canada on the board of Public Services International. She is a member of the executive committee of Formarez, the training mutual for workers in private seniors’ residences, and is very involved in Québec’s private residence and social economy sectors.

Sister Legault was the first female international vice-president of SEIU for Quebec, and has been in charge of the organizing department since 2006.

Natalie Mehra

Natalie Mehra is the Director of the Ontario Health Coalition – an organization encompassing more than 70 local chapters and more than 400 organizations across Ontario. She has spent the last decade building the health coalition into the largest and broadest public interest group on health care in Ontario.

Natalie has been a board member for a number of human rights, arts, health, advocacy, disability, and women’s organizations, and currently sits on the board of the Canadian Health Coalition. Prior to joining the Health Coalition, Natalie served as the executive director of the Epilepsy Association in Kingston and Brockville.

She has extensive experience as a community organizer dedicated to building and coordinating democratic citizens’ engagement in issues related to poverty and equality, human rights, social justice and health. Natalie has authored numerous published reports, essays and articles on various sectors and issues in our public health system, on non-profit governance, on poverty, disability, health and politics. She has spearheaded several national campaigns to protect the public health care system from privatization.

Lois Wales

In the fall of 2010, Lois Wales became the first woman elected as president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union. For over twenty years prior to this, Lois held a variety of high level leadership positions in the union while working as a cardiology technologist in Selkirk, Manitoba.

Lois was MGEU’s 4th Vice-President in 1996, when nearly three thousand home care workers went on a months-long and ultimately successful strike to prevent the privatization of Manitoba’s home care program. From 1998 to 2010, she served as the MGEU’s 1st Vice-President and chaired the Constitution Bylaws and Structure committee, which brought about the union’s clear language Constitution.

Today, Lois serves on the Executive of both the Manitoba Federation of Labour and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). She is working closely with MGEU staff, home care activists, and the Regional Health Authorities to create equivalent full-time positions within the province’s public home care system.

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