Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Monday, September 28, 2015


ONE VETERAN'S VOICE by Wolf William Solkin



Not too many moons ago, this old Algonquin Regiment "brave" sent up a smoke - signal that spelled out what I personally knew about the commendable conditions and standards of care THEN extant under Veterans Affairs Canada at my current billet, Ste. Anne's (Veterans) Hospital . In that opinion piece, I contrasted the present positive performance with my fearful forecast and core conviction that, no sooner will Ste. Anne's fall from grace at VAC by being transferred (kicking and screaming all the way) into what I see as the quagmire of Quebec's unhealthy Health Dep't., then all bets are off, and we will become orphans in the storm of poorer provincial protocols and crass cost-cutting, courtesy of "Bully-Boy" Barrette and his bunch of benighted bureaucrats and political pals.

That column was titled "TODAY AND TOMORROW(?)", and it was my (naive) assumption that the egregious era of "TOMORROW" would be yet a while before making its foreboding appearance on the scene....certainly not before the "Transfer Tremors" takeover.. Not so, I regret to remark upon and report !
Even now, the portentous cracks in the very foundation of Ste. Anne's unique culture of care and concern are visibly spreading, and showing , on the surface, what further fissures lie below, awaiting their turn and time of eruption.

At this juncture, I refer particularly to the employee/staff situation which , like the recent stock market behaviour, has taken a sudden downturn in the quantity and quality of its customary "blue chip" elements. Those "securities", in our case, are the knowledgeable nurses and the extraordinary orderlies who attend to us 24/ least, what remains of them, after the many early retirements, resignations and other ship-jumpings that have already taken place , due to rampant job insecurity and general frustration with the administration's misbegotten modus operandi.

Of late there has been a spate of sudden and/or lengthy absenteeism on the part of an unacceptable number of essential employees, frequently leaving the shift staff seriously short-handed, and, by the same token, leaving us Vets in the uncertain and spotty care of far less experienced (and betimes strictly unilingual ) "newbies"*** ; retirees pressed into service long after their shelf life has expired, or, even less desirable, simply no replacements whatsoever, causing standards to be sacrificed on the altar of austerity, or perhaps even that of insouciance, while "marching in place" and marking time until the problem falls within the province of the Province.

I have just been informed that the main reason for deliberately calling in "newbies" to fill staff shortages , rather than experienced and available "veteran" employees, appears to be that the latter must be paid at a higher rate than the former, thus helping "Management" to show a better "bottom line"! All at the expense (no pun intended) of the pre-existing higher standards of care...yet another step down that slippery slope which endangers Ste. Anne's erstwhile reputation for its stellar services to Canadian Veterans.

While some absences may be lscheduled vacations or days off, more and more seem attributable to other causes. Overwork has caused some blazing burn outs, resulting in prolonged medical leave; and what has previously been the familiar "Friday Flu", that now ubiquitous virus seems to have significantly spread not only into Saturdays and Sundays, but is wending its way into weekdays as well.

The consequences are as self- evident as they are unavoidable, especially due to the seeming regrettable rush to cut costs, no matter the cost. The current consensus /'vox populi' is that employee morale is sliding downhill on a slippery slope, with diminished standards of care as the booby-prize at the bottom. The reliable staff members that still show up as scheduled are often requested/entreated/pressured into "doing a double" (shift), often until they are too tired to stand on their feet; orderlies and nurses are switched from floor to floor, or even wing to wing, at will and without notice; muted mutterings have replaced happy 'hellos', and every exhausted employee seems to be bearing the burden of two, as they breathlessly hurry hither and thither to try to properly attend to the needs of their above normal assignment/quota of patients in a timely fashion, while still attempting to maintain their usual high levels of care and attention.....for the most part, like Sisyphus, facing an ever-impossible mountain to climb.

Moreover, these staff shortages can cause delays in meals and other essential services which, in turn, create a domino effect whereby previously tightly scheduled appointments with clinicians such as physio and/or occupational therapists, as well as with a wide variety of visiting medical specialists, must, of necessity, be rapidly rescheduled or, as is too often the case, postponed for a prolonged period of time....hardly a desirable outcome, nor is it, in the slightest, up to Ste. Anne's standard "standards of care".

Again, due to staff shortages, some patients have even had to miss their once-weekly(!) bath on more than one occasion, which is totally unacceptable, and an augury contrary to the oft-repeated and avowed /proclaimed VAC pledge that the vaunted high standards of care at Ste. Anne's will never be reduced Don't get me wrong....if one has to reside in a long-term care facility, this is still a darn good place to be....but it is definitely becoming less so with each passing day, as it anxiously awaits the provincially-suspended Sword of Damocles to plunge into its very essence.

I say, enough of the present on-site administration fantasizing that all is 'tickety -boo', and 'business as usual' is ongoing until the onset of Nirvana, in the form of their vision of a seamless transfer/transition which they trumpet will yet occur. God may be in his heaven, but all's not well with the world of Ste. Anne's. Hypothetically, it would be ideal if someone with some savvy from VAC's HQ could come here and just mingle and talk with a random sampling of the floor nurses, orderlies and patients, to determine whether or not I'm babbling through my beret. If my observations and evaluation of this incipient situation prove to be correct, then concrete corrective measures should/must be implemented immediately, from the top down, before the proverbial fan gets hit too hard.

On second thought, the above suggestion would be impossible to act upon, as the floor staff have been instructed, in no uncertain terms, that it is forbidden for them to speak to patients about anything pertaining to the hospital, other than matters related to their immediate duties at hand, under penalty of serious consequences. In effect, if they rock the boat, they risk being made to "walk the plank". And as for speaking out to "outsiders"... why, that would be courting a veritable court martial !

We Veterans will undoubtedly lose a lot of things on a number of fronts during and due to the transfer troubles that we will soon be facing. Notwithstanding, the one element that must be protected and preserved above all else, and is germane to our sense of security and satisfaction which comprises the essential aspect of our life at Ste. Anne's, is the culture of peerless care combined with the wonderful work ethic which has hitherto permeated the rank-and-file personnel. The SAH patients and floor staff have for decades enjoyed a mutualistic/symbiotic relationship , which should be permitted and encouraged to flourish undiminished and undamaged, without fear or favour.

That is what we Vets were promised. That is what we Vets deserve. That is what we Vets expect.

What was once a warm and welcoming work place is fast becoming one of conflicts and complaints, and this inevitably shows up in the reduced degree of care and time allotted, plus unraveling of reciprocal relationships, all contra-indicated for the patients' well-being. And all this starting to simmer this summer, long before the actual transfer is even consummated !

I lay no blame whatsoever on the employees. The fault lies in their confounded confusion and uncertainty about what they do not yet know about their future, coupled with their basic distrust and discontentment with what little they do know of that which lies ahead.

Just reading my diatribes and nodding your concurrence to yourself as you nod off, won't accomplish diddly squat, unless YOU write a letter, make a call, or send an email to the person whom YOU are personally paying to represent YOU as your Member of Parliament , and instruct him/her to respond to (y)our "S O S" ........."SAVE OUR. STAFF" !!!

And please, Lest We Forget......

Wolf William Solkin.

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