On April 18th the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) issued a memo announcing a province-wide review of security services, using an external consultant named Tony Weeks. In announcing the review, Saskatchewan Health Authority vice-president Andrew Will told media, “Definitely we’re seeing more events where staff and/or patient safety is jeopardized.” 

“There are thousands of front-line health care workers in Saskatchewan who can attest that incidents of violence in health care facilities are on the increase,” says CUPE Saskatchewan President Tom Graham.

Statistics also bear this out. Last August, the former Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region reported that “acts of violence increased from 2015/2016 to 2016/2017 by 254 incidents.”

Death threats have become routine and are experienced not only by security personnel but by nurses, continuing care aides, and other health care workers. “No one should have to endure threats on their life for going to work in health care,” says Graham.

“Everyone can agree with Saskatchewan Health Authority vice-president Andrew Will that increased violence in health facilities is a serious matter. However, safety concerns in some health facilities have been downplayed by management in recent years. This begs the question of why this security review is taking place only now, as part a top-down restructuring process that is driven by cost savings rather than public health,” says Graham.

In some facilities and departments, health care workers are discouraged from filling out incident reports in the workplace. Those who do fill out incident reports say there is little or no follow-up and nothing changes. Some even feel targeted by management for bringing up safety concerns.

In recent years, front-line workers have faced roadblocks when trying to improve health and safety, with some told there is no money to train staff or repair equipment.

“We know of cases when requests for risk assessments for violent patients in long-term care have been denied to employee health and safety representatives,” says Graham. “Meanwhile, we have seen reduced security staff in some health facilities.”

These are major contributing factors to safety concerns in health care. Had administrators been open to the concerns of front-line workers, and addressed known problems rather than continually downplaying them, there would be no need to hire an external consultant for this review.

“They have hired an Ontario consultant named Tony Weeks to conduct the review,” notes Graham. “Mr. Weeks has an interesting history. He was brought to Alberta to centralize security services in 2010. The result there was the reduction of 120 positions and the partial contracting out of security services to the B.C. firm Paladin Security.”

The restructuring took effect in April and by June 2010 the United Nurses of Alberta were raising serious safety concerns because of reduced security staff and contracting out to a private for-profit firm.

At the same time, the Alberta Union of Public Employees submitted an application to the Labour Board, to extend collective agreement rights to contract employees, who made $10 less an hour and lacked benefits and workplace protections.

In 2013, Mr. Weeks was appointed CEO of Brockville General Hospital in Ontario. His term as CEOconcluded abruptly in July 2016, following “tense relations between staff and management.” Hospital administration refused to comment on whether the abrupt departure was a dismissal. Mr. Weeks nonetheless made the “Sunshine List for 2017,” earning $180,079 for his role as president and CEO of the hospital, despite doing no work for the hospital in 2017.

Nurses at the hospital welcomed Weeks’ exit. Ontario Nurses’ Association president Linda Haslam-Stroud referred to Weeks’ tenure as “several years of misery” and told media that “Decisions made over the last couple of years, we do not believe were made in the best interests of the patients.”  

“There is little to suggest that improved health, safety, and security in health care facilities is the motivation for this security review,” says Graham. “Throughout the current restructuring in health care, front-line workers have consistently been the last to know and the least heard by this government.”

“What are the real motivations behind this security review if not simple cost savings through reduced staffing and contracting out?”

“Cuts to security staffing, insufficient training and equipment, intimidation of front-line workers, an inadequate incident report system, and privatization and contracting out to low-paying, out-of-province firms like Paladin will not improve health and safety in our facilities. On this, we should also be clear,” says Graham.