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Nine hospital workers laid off in Hay River

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Hay River (July 04/05) - Nine workers are being laid off at the Hay River hospital because of a large budget deficit at the community's health and social services authority.

Paul Vieira is the CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.

The red ink totals $550,000.

"We have to restructure, turn the corner and live within our financial means or we'll be in serious financial difficulty," says Paul Vieira, the CEO with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.

Vieira says the authority was heading towards not having the cash flow to meet payroll.

Vivian Stevely, the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada local representing the workers, was shocked by the layoffs.

The layoffs affect an administrative assistant to the directors, two part-time evening and weekend admitting clerks, two full-time nursing assistants, two part-time registered nurse positions, and two full-time licensed practical nurses.

The administrative assistant and clerks were let go immediately with three months' pay, while the nursing positions will be eliminated over the next three months.

The authority is not planning further layoffs, Vieira says, but will look for efficiencies in other areas, including attrition. Both Vieira and Stevely are optimistic other positions can be found within the organization for the affected nursing staff.

There are currently three unfilled full-time nursing positions. The hospital employs 20 registered nurses, 15 practical nurses and two nursing assistants who are being laid off.

The announcement of the layoffs comes while collective bargaining is about to begin between the health authority and the union.

Stevely says the timing is suspicious.

"In an era of increasing need for health care, particularly in remote communities, this employer wants to lay off staff. Let's get real," she says. "Our community should not have to suffer any more reductions in services and we, as health care workers, deserve fair negotiations and a fair contract."

Vieira says the layoffs are not linked to the contract. "It's not part of our collective bargaining strategy."

The contract between the union and the health authority expired March 31, 2005, and bargaining dates are being set.

Health and Social Services Minister Michael Miltenberger supports the health authority's actions.

The authority has responded in a "measured and careful" way to its financial difficulties, he says, noting a significant number of unfunded positions have built up over the years.

The authority had submitted a deficit budget to the department, but it was rejected. The minister said there was no cut to the health authority's funding.

"This is not a revenue problem. This is an expenditure problem," he said.

Of the health authority's $16-million annual budget, over $14 million comes from the GNWT.

This year's budget deficit began at $2 million before being reduced through various steps, including leaving some positions unfilled and reducing discretionary spending for travel, education and supplies.