Speech nets nurse a job suspension

After commenting on care levels, employer suspends care giver

Tina Irvine, a licensed practical nurse, was suspended on Friday for a week and half without pay for speaking publicly about conditions at Stanford Place in Parksville.

Irvine, a Stanford employee since it opened in 2008 and an officer of the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) local executive, was disciplined starting Feb. 2 for speaking at a January 19 public forum in Parksville on the state of seniors’ care.

While The Ahmon Group, owners of Stanford Place, could not be reached for comment, they issued a news release Feb. 8.

“Resident family members and our staff have expressed concerns that [Irvine’s speech], misrepresented current staffing levels and services at Stanford,” it says. “The Ahmon Group believes that this speech, and the subsequent media campaign by the HEU, are the direct result of the recent reduction in employee wages and have nothing to do with the level of care being provided at Stanford.”

Irvine was a panelist at a packed event sponsored by the HEU and Oceanside Coalition for Strong Communities. She read a statement on her experience of how decreasing wages, staff shortages and turnover are impacting care.

“I am the one who gently wakes your mom, ensures her safety,” she wrote in a three-page statement which is available at www.heu.org.

“In our view, it is simply an attempt to intimidate HEU members and keep them from speaking out about the conditions they face caring for seniors in residential facilities,” said HEU secretary-business manager Bonnie Pearson who called the suspension “completely outrageous.”

“The union is grieving the employer’s action and we’re confident that the suspension will be reversed,” she said in a news release.

In her speech Irvine said things started great at the facility. Things started changing two years ago, “when we were told the company wasn’t making ends meet and they would have to cut wages by five per cent, decrease benefits and our sick days.”

She said despite promises it was only temporary, binding arbitration cut their wages a further 20 per cent last October, leaving employees scrambling to make ends meet and often working two jobs or having to change jobs. She said this has led to a lot of staff turnover and a generally less positive environment for staff and residents.

“Stanford provides excellent staff to resident ratios and unit-based teams to ensure consistent staff coverage and support,” continues the Ahmon release. “Our staff have a personalized knowledge of each resident to ensure a homelike atmosphere.”

It says Stanford required the wage reduction “to ensure that there was no reduction in the level of care being provided and that Stanford remain a viable employer.”

“The arbitration decision did not result in any job loss or layoffs or any reduction in staffing levels in any department.”

Ahmon Group president and CEO Betty Ahmon said, “Efforts of our staff to move beyond the outcome of this bargaining process with the HEU and remain focused on their service to the residents of our facility should not be undermined by the HEU’s agenda.”

“This young lady spoke with such passion and compassion and concern for her work place,” gushed local NDP candidate Barry Avis who attended the packed meeting.

“That night I thought, this person is really going above and beyond, people need to speak up like that. She really painted a picture for us about what’s been happening there over the last while.

“Before criticizing this person it would have been better for the employer to sit down with her or her union and adress these issues. If I’m ever in need of care I’d sure hope to have someone like her around.”

HEU representative Sandra Ford said they have been through “step one” of the grievance process, communicating with the employer to have Irvine reinstated and paid the lost wages.

Stage two is the filing of a formal grievance late this week and stage three would start after 21 days and include arbitration.

“We’re feeling very confident in our position, which is that this is intimidation, but the employer is also confident in their position,” Ford said.


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