Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian is criticizing a recent move at George Derby Centre to fire nearly 100 unionized staff, and he says families are contacting him, worried about the their loved ones staying in the local veterans' care home.
"It's absolutely appalling. You have government that will pay lip service to sacrifices of veterans around Remembrance Day but treat them in such a cavalier fashion, and it angers me, it angers a lot of people in the community, and it has to change," Julian said. "This is unacceptable."
Burnaby's George Derby Centre, which provides care for approximately 300 veterans, announced last week that more than 90 staff would be laid off at the end of April. Faced with limited funding, the centre is planning to contract out housekeeping, food and nutrition, laundry, clerical and activity staff, in order to provide more care hours for the residents. While the non-profit centre is funded by provincial tax dollars through the Fraser Health Authority, Julian blamed the federal government.
"What they've done over the past few years is they've gradually pulled away from providing supports for veterans' hospital funding," Julian said. "The provinces are ending up doing the lion's share of funding, and this is in the framework of generalized cutbacks to Veterans Affairs. . If we owe anyone in Canadian society, we owe our veterans."
Julian said the message that sends to vets is "reprehensible."
"Here you have veterans who were willing to put their lives on the line, and because the federal government has been pulling out, and the provincial government is making bad decisions, they are no longer going to be given the same quality of care. I've had a number of families contact me, and they are heartbroken," Julian said.
George Derby's residents are mostly from the Second World War and the Korean War, and more than three-quarters of them suffer from dementia.
George Derby's changes do not affect the nursing staff and those who help with feeding, bathing and grooming, according to Janice Mitchell, the centre's executive director. Mitchell told the NOW the centre made the difficult decision in order to increase the number of care hours the residents receive, and the main reason for the change was because the residents are more frail and have complex care needs.
Dale Gebhard's 88year-old father just moved into George Derby on Aug. 28. Gebhard has concerns about the centre's move to contract out services, which he said hasn't worked very well in most cases.
"The staff here are well-paid, career employees. The turnover here has been very minimal, and the staff here see our loved ones more often than we do. Really, they are surrogate family members," Gebhard said. "What they are really doing is not just firing employees, they are firing de facto family members."
Gebhard's father fought in the Second World War, and his health deteriorated about four months ago. According to Gebhard, George Derby has held three meetings for family members to explain the staffing changes.
"Everyone was really caught off guard here," he said. "At the very least, there should be some consultation with all affected partners.
"There's a hell of a lot of people who are really ticked off here," he said.
According to the Hospital Employees' Union, which represents the staff that are about to be laid off, contracting out to private companies that pay low wages and offer few benefits has become common practice for B.C. long-term care facilities that face reductions in funding from health authorities.
"The families were told in a series of meeting over the past week. Since that official notice, they have been increasingly upset, as it's sinking in to what the contracting out means. They've been getting in contact with us and local politicians," said Margi Blamey, a spokesperson with the Hospital Employees' Union. "The biggest concern is the way one veteran put it in a TV segment earlier: It's breaking up the family," she said, adding some workers have been there for decades. "When you have that kind of workforce stability, you get to know people."