Since becoming the critic for health and wellness I have discovered two things about the working conditions of our healthcare professionals. These need to be acknowledged and addressed if we are to see any improvement.
First, I learned some healthcare workers are carrying unsafe workloads and working in unsafe environments. Secondly, I learned they are being prevented from speaking up about these problems because they have been forced to sign a confidentiality agreement (often called an NDA) with their employer.
I want to walk you through these two things to illustrate the problem and suggest a way forward. Ultimately it is in the power of the Minister of Health and Wellness to make the changes required to create a safe work environment for our healthcare workers.
Unsafe working conditions
I have spoken with many talented and engaged Island health professionals who have been flagging serious concerns in the field for years. Harassment, serious under-staffing, and assault are becoming a norm for many of them. These are unsafe work conditions that no person should ever have to endure.
Paramedics have told me it is common for shortages resulting in as little as one single ambulance available to cover the whole of PEI. This leaves paramedics feeling nervous about their ability to respond to emergencies in a timely manner. However, paramedics cannot speak out because they are under strict confidentiality agreements.
No time to meet the human need
Residential Care Workers have tears in their eyes when they tell me that their employer will only allow five minutes of scheduled time with a senior who is lonely or sad. They want to help meet the real human needs of those in their care, but because their employers have put limitations on the amount of time they can spend with a resident, they cannot. It is devastating to them to have to tear themselves away from that person who needs them, but if they do not then they will be reprimanded.
I have heard frequently how many people are off on stress or sick leave due to mental health issues stemming from unsafe work environments. When we consider the high turnover rate, it begs the question: how many are leaving their careers because their concerns have not been listened to and they see no meaningful attempt to implement changes that will create a safe environment for them and the people in their care?
Forced into silence
Healthcare workers want Islanders to be informed about the healthcare system and how challenges are impacting the level of care they receive. I regularly get anonymous phone calls and brown envelopes with concerns from professionals in our healthcare system. Every day I hear, “if my employer knew I was talking to you I would lose my job.”
Our healthcare workers are working in fear of being punished if they speak out about the challenges they are facing. In fact, they are forced to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibit them from talking about the unsafe conditions in their workplaces. This is wrong and not helpful. Workers should never be prevented from pointing out unsafe working conditions.
A deeply rooted problem
These stories are not limited to one employer. It is straight across our healthcare system. The responsibility to fix this lies with the Minister of Health and the King government.
There are trends that are not hard to find if this government really wants to address the serious issues in our healthcare system. While projects like the Alliance for Mental Wellbeing are exciting to throw your resources behind, they do not address the health and wellbeing of the workers that are needed to run this and other existing projects and programs. There are more effective ways to spend $10M.
If the Minister really wanted to make a difference in mental health and wellbeing he could start with addressing the treatment of workers by the employers in our healthcare system. Listen to them and provide them with the tools and resources they need to do their work safely.
The Minister is the ultimate authority on healthcare in this province. Our frontline professionals are drowning and it is his responsibility to throw them a lifeline.