Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, once said “No man, not even a doctor, ever gives any other definition of what a nurse should be than this –‘devoted and obedient.’ This definition would do just as well for a porter. It might even do for a horse. It would not do for a policeman”… and in Florence Nightingale’s world it would not do for a nurse either.
Think about it for a minute. When you or I have a really bad day at work, we put it into perspective with the comment “nobody died”. In fact that’s exactly how Health Minister Horne dismissed public criticism of yet another scalding incident in a government funded private care facility—“…in no case was it indicated that there was any serious harm done, nor did anyone die as a result of these errors”.* What’s the big deal, nobody died.
In a nurse’s world people die. And if the nurse’s world is a seniors long term care facility the odds of somebody dying are high.
That’s why one of the guiding principles of Park Place Seniors Living, a private for-profit corporation providing seniors care, is to ”attract, hire, retain, develop and deserve the best people at all levels”.
Park Place owns 13 seniors care centres in BC and Alberta including the Devonshire Care Centre in Edmonton. So how well is this vision/mission/principle working at the Devonshire?
Not well I’m afraid. In order to “attract, hire, and retain…the best” Park Place is offering a compensation package that is about $9 an hour less than the package paid to RNs doing the same work at other seniors care centres (including some operated by Park Place) and at public health care facilities.
In order to demonstrate how much it “deserves” the best people Park Place sent a message to the Devonshire residents and their families implying that if it paid the nurses the wages they were asking for it would have to reduce levels of care.**
Let’s not forget that Park Place cannot operate the Devonshire facility without registered nurses working on every shift. It’s the law. Let’s not forget that Park Place receives public funding (ie. our tax dollars) to subsidize its for-profit business model, which goes a long way to helping Park Place meet its financial guiding principles—minimizing financial risk and making sound financial decisions.
And yet, this inadequate compensation package is the best that Park Place can cobble together after a year of negotiating with the Devonshire nurses, all 15 of them.
Florence Nightingale would never stand for it and neither will the Devonshire nurses.
On Dec 14, 2012 the nurses, who are members of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) Local 417, voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action. Three days later they could have given strike notice, walked off the job, thrown up picket lines in front of the Devonshire and disrupted Christmas for the seniors and their families.
But the Devonshire nurses chose not to do so. Why? Because when nurses say they care about people they really mean it.
The Devonshire nurses had leverage. What better way to put pressure on Park Place’s scrooge-like management than to take strike action on Christmas Day. The BC Ferries union often “discovered” mechanical problems the day before a holiday weekend if contract negotiations were going poorly. Some unions don’t give a fig for the public who are impacted by their actions. Fancy that.
The United Nurses of Alberta are different. Heather Smith, UNA President, sums it up like this: “Every day our actions speak volumes about our intent and interest, not just in nursing but in working for all Albertans”. ***
The willingness of UNA Local 417 to delay strike action until after Christmas demonstrates the nurses’ compassion for the Devonshire residents and their families.
But make no mistake; the Devonshire nurses in UNA Local 417 take their cues from Florence Nightingale, not the fictional Cherry Ames. They will fight hard for a fair wage from a private corporation subsidized by tax dollars and bent on maintaining its profit margin at the expense of the nurses it employs.
Merry Christmas Florence Nightingale and UNA Local 417! You have our unwavering support and admiration in the coming year.
Blog readers: Honk if you agree!
*Hansard, Nov 8, 2012, p 678
**UNA Media Release, Dec 18, 2012
***UNA Newsletter Dec 2012