COVID-19: Health heroes at Yukon Hospitals deserve a fair deal, now more than ever

Pandemic protocols, dangerously low staff levels and massive technological changes are just a few of the challenges PSAC members working for the Yukon Hospital Corporation (YHC) have had to face recently. This has led up to one of their most challenging rounds of bargaining yet with an unyielding employer.

PSAC represents over 300 health care workers at Whitehorse General Hospital, Dawson City Community Hospital and Watson Lake Community Hospital that make up YHC. Our members fill a range of roles from licensed practical nurses, administrators, housekeepers, laboratory technicians, health screeners and cafeteria staff.

It’s easy to imagine these health heroes have been putting it all on the line despite their workload becoming complicated by the pandemic. Though northern Canada has not experienced a proportionately high volume of COVID-19 cases, the virus has created an additional workload and a more dangerous working environment.

Unique challenges brought on by the pandemic

COVID-19 appears to have backlogged routine procedures to prioritize high-risk patients and reduce the spread of the virus in hospitals. Outpatient care has been drastically affected. Health care workers are now tasked with COVID-19 testing, wearing additional personal protective equipment, and extra cleaning protocols on top of their normal rigorous sanitizing routines.

YHC staff are also managing the universal challenges that COVID-19 has created for all workers, but with the additional layer of being at the highest risk of exposure to the virus. Health care workers are dealing with typical issues around child care, elder care and remote work, but as frontline workers, they have a greater fear of spreading the virus to family and loved ones.

Furthermore, Yukon’s hospitals were in the middle of a massive technological change when the pandemic hit. The territory of Yukon has been upgrading its health information system to 1Health Yukon, a new platform which allows health practitioners to access consistent health data throughout the territory to improve the quality of care and health outcomes of patients. Though the software upgrade is welcome, transferring an entire hospital over to a new system is strenuous work.

Bargaining during unprecedented times

In addition to coping with COVID-19 challenges, Yukon hospital workers are also in the middle of bargaining with a difficult employer. The staffing levels across Yukon’s hospitals have reached dangerously low numbers. Many quality workers have resigned pointing to poor working conditions as the cause. With every resignation comes an increased workload for the remaining staff, putting them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

The YHC bargaining team members are hoping to improve these working conditions by putting forward demands that make the health and wellness of its hospital staff a priority. They are fighting to get basic health and safety protocols around critical incidents, physical distancing in offices and member protections and security measures included in the next collective agreement.

Members are also asking for quarantine leave with pay for workers who are required to stay home or waiting for COVID-19 test results. Hospital workers, more than most, need access to this type of leave since they are at the highest risk of contracting the virus. YHC bargaining team members are currently in conciliation and are hoping to get back to the table by the end of this year to reach an agreement.

Thank you, Yukon hospital workers!

PSAC stands with YHC members and joins in their calls for improved working conditions and a fair deal at the bargaining table. Despite all of the challenges they are facing, our members continue to show up day after day to deliver quality health care to Yukon’s residents. In return, they deserve to feel safe and supported in the workplace so they can continue the essential service they provide to thousands of patients every year.

PSAC salutes all our members working in the health care industry for stepping up to the challenge under unprecedented circumstances.

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December 3, 2020