Michael Briones photo Hospital Employees Union caregivers rally at Stanford Place in Parksville in protest of working conditions and withheld benefits Monday, June 5.

Senior care home workers rally in Parksville

HEU employees at Stanford Place claim ‘lack of trust’ in management

When Parksville’s Stanford Place retirement home changed hands last November, Retirement Concepts president and CEO Azim Jamal said it would be “business as usual.”

Stanford Place caregivers say that hasn’t necessarily proven to be a good thing.

A group of more than two dozen Hospital Employees’ Union workers at the home staged a combination protest/rally outside Stanford Place Monday morning, to call attention to what they describe as a culture of “disrepect” and mismanagement by Pacific Reach Seniors Housing Management (PRSHM), the limited partnership formed last year between Retirement Concepts and Cedar Tree.

“I’m fearful of what’s going on,” said John Demedeiros, chair of the HEU board at Stanford Place. “This rally was to let (management) know we’re not happy. We feel there’s a disrespect for the union, for our members and for the residents as well. They deserve the best care they can get.”

Demedeiros cited a list of grievances including severe short-staffing, multiple and ongoing errors in pay and benefits and the company’s failure to register employees’ municipal pension plan (MPP), a failure compounded by management’s unwillingness to return interest collected from employees and held by the company.

“PRSHM is aware that payroll errors at Stanford Seniors Village have resulted in incorrect pay for some employees,” Jennie Deneka, vice president of operations, said in a written reponse to The NEWS. “This includes working collaboratively with the Hospital Employees’ Union to ensure staff are paid correctly and that previous mistakes are recitified retroactively. We aplogize for any inconvenience and stress this has caused our staff.”

There seemed to be a difference of opinion on the issue of interest payments from the accrued MPP plan contributions. Deneka said PRSHM has made an application to the MPP and that pension contributions have been placed in a separate fund that will be transferred to the MPP.

“Interest accrued in this fund will be included when the funds are transferred to the MPP,” she said.

But Demedeiros said that differs from the message he received when the union met with the chief financial officer of PRSHM.

“He said they didn’t need to pay (interest) back because the failure to register the MPP wasn’t intentional,” Demedeiros said.

Retirement Concepts owned 24 retirement homes, most in B.C., when it entered into a partnership last November with Cedar Tree, which is linked to the Anbang Insurance Group of China, The NEWS reported last fall. Under the partnership, PRSHM continues to manage Stanford Place, which has more than 230 residents, and many of the other homes from its headquarters in Vancouver. The facility contains both privately funded units and units subsidized publicly through Island Health.

Retirement Concepts also owns The Gardens at Qualicum Beach, but that home does not fall under the partnership with Cedar Tree, Jamal said in November.

Demdeiros said the affected employees at Stanford Place include care aides, licenced practical nurses (LPNs), and support staff including dieticians, housekeeping, activity aides, front office and counselling personnel.

“There are roughly 225 employees,” said Demedeiros, who said that 100 employees have either left their positions or left the job altogether since 2008. “That’s a huge turnover. If you have people treated properly, you don’t have that kind of turnover.”

Deneka said that when staffing openings arise, PRSHM “actively and diligently” works to fill them.

“PRSHM is dedicated to the best possible care of residents and we maintain staffing levels that meet or exceed industry standards and health authority guidelines,” she said.

During the rally, Demedeiros said, Stanford Place management called an emergency meeting and asked to speak to the protesting members. Neither Stanford Place nor PRSHM management commented on the meeting.

“Many of our members were allowed to vocalize their opinions,” Demedeiros said. “They’ve been frustrated and angry. I think management here has a tough road ahead.”

Demedieros admitted the bulk of HEU members’ grievances flow from PRSHM corporate offices, rather than management within Stanford Place.

“Unfortunately, they’re just the messengers here,” he said of Stanford Place managers. “We’re hoping they can do something to improve health care for our residents, and to hire more staff.”