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Burnaby veterans' home to lay off unionized staff

The Hospital Employees' Union has learned that more than 90 of its unionized health-care workers are getting pink slips at a Burnaby care home for elderly veterans.

The Hospital Employees' Union has learned that more than 90 of its unionized health-care workers are getting pink slips at a Burnaby care home for elderly veterans.

According to the union, the workers will be laid off at the end of April 2013, following a decision by the centre to contract out housekeeping, food and nutrition, laundry, clerical and activity staff.

"Contracting out has become the easy way out for facility administrators facing budget crunches, but it comes at a high cost to residents who will lose trusted staff and to the workers who will lose their jobs," said union spokesperson Bonnie Pearson in a press release. "Many of the workers have been at George Derby for more than 20 years and have long-standing relationships with the veteran residents and their families. The loss of familiar, experienced and trusted staff members is traumatic for seniors living in long-term care facilities. Studies have recognized the negative impact that disruptions in continuity of care such as contracting out have on residents."

The union also pointed out that B.C.'s ombudsperson, Kim Carter, has recommended that the provincial Health Ministry "develop safeguards to ensure that seniors in residential care are not adversely affected by large-scale staff replacement."

According to the union, 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.

Janice Mitchell, the executive director at George Derby Centre, said the centre made a difficult decision 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.

"What we're doing is looking at the funding we do received and how we can best use that funding to meet the needs of our residents," Mitchell said.

"Fraser Health has increased our funding over the past couple of years, ... but we obviously operate within established benchmarks," she said when asked if the centre receives enough funding. "They have provided us with the level of funding that will allow us to operate within our mandate but to work towards providing the hours of care our residents would require."

When asked what measures the centre has in place to ensure the residents are not adversely impacted by the staffing change, Mitchell said she realized it was a change for them and their family members and that the centre was working closely with them to ensure that any transition would be seamless and would not disrupt the quality of services the residents receive.

The changes do not affect the nursing staff and those who help with feeding bathing and grooming, Mitchell added.

"The end result is our residents will benefit from this. We'll be using the money we expect to save by contracting out ... to increase the hours of care our residents receive," she said.

The non-profit George Derby Centre provides complex care for roughly 300 veterans, mostly from the Second World War and the Korean War and more than 75 per cent of them suffer from dementia. The centre was originally built in 1946 as a home for disabled veterans, to help them rehabilitate and integrate into the community after returning home from the war.