The Hospital Employees' Union is planning a workers' rally and hosting a meeting for families concerned about loved ones at Burnaby's George Derby Centre, which has recently decided to lay off more than 90 unionized employees and contract out some services.
"We've been getting a lot of calls from family members. Our members at George Derby have been asked a lot of questions by family members," said union spokesperson Margi Blamey.
The meeting for families is scheduled Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. at the union's South Burnaby office, at 5000 North Fraser Way.
George Derby provides care for roughly 300 veterans, most of whom suffer from dementia. The centre recently decided to lay off about 90 people at the end of April and contract out housekeeping, food and nutrition, laundry, clerical and activity staff. The move is expected to save money in order to provide more care hours for the aging residents. The non-profit centre is mainly funded through the Fraser Health Authority, but Veterans Affairs Canada funds some programs. The union has raised concerns that the loss of familiar, experienced and trusted staff members could be traumatic for the seniors.
Dale Gebhard's 88-year-old father moved into the centre in late August, and he also has concerns about how the staffing change will impact the care his father is receiving.
"The anger over this firing of these 90 people has certainly not subsided," he said.
Gebhard is planning to attend the Wednesday meeting in hopes of gathering information and uniting family members to formulate a strategy to reverse the layoff decision.
Janice Mitchell, the executive director at George Derby Centre, told the NOW the centre made the difficult decision to lay off staff in order to increase the number of care hours the residents receive, and that the main reason for the change was because the residents are more frail and have complex care needs. Mitchell also noted that nursing staff will stay.
"That's extremely significant," she said. "They are people who provide direct care with our residents. They bathe them, they assist them with their meals. They assist them with all their activities of daily living."
According to Mitchell, the union's assumptions that the layoffs would compromise care are not correct. Savings from the layoffs will go towards increasing care hours for residents, whose needs have changed as the centre's population ages. About seven years ago, half of the resident population at George Derby was able to live independently. Now there are fewer than 10 out of 300 that are completely independent, according to Mitchell.
"That's huge. What we're really doing here is finding a way to ensure the quality of our support services remains the same, if not better, and then using the additional funds, every cent of it, back into providing that direct nursing care and personal care for our residents," she said.
As for keeping families informed, Mitchell said there has been a series of meetings.
"My main concern is for our residents' well-being. That's my priority, and that's what's holding us firm," she said. "I've been a huge advocate for the well-being of our residents, and I will continue to do that as long as I'm there."
Gebhard said if Mitchell were to search for funding elsewhere, the families would help.
"We will be her single biggest ally if she should decide to look elsewhere for funds. We'll go camp out at the department of Veterans' Affairs office because we want the best for our families," he said.
According to Gebhard, there are about 50 people - family members and friends of George Derby residents - who would like to join the centre's society to have voting rights at the society's annual general meeting, and Gebhard is hoping that could reverse the layoffs. But Gebhard said centre staff is refusing to accept the applications at this time.
Mitchell confirmed this, but said there was some confusion about the application process, and that's why they were not accepted.
The Hospital Employees' Union is also holding a rally at the centre on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair is scheduled to speak, along with Bonnie Pearson, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees' Union. The centre is at 7550 Cumberland St.
"The focus of the rally is to draw attention to the fact this vast array of services is being contracted out at George Derby," Blamey said. "I think there's always a possibility to have the decision revisited."