Merry Christmas Florence Nightingale

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.

Illustration of Florence Nightingale

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 



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8 Responses to Merry Christmas Florence Nightingale

  1. very well put Susan, my daughter is a home care nurse who graduated from the u. of a. with distinction and she never brings her work home or complains but I can see what they are putting up with on her face and it cant help but take a toll on her two young children. I get a charge out of seeing every once in a while a politician making the comment on the money they are wasting or actually helping themselves to saying “BUT IT IS SUCH A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF THE TOTAL BUDGET” really it just floors me to see what a calloused attitude they have to health and peoples well being.



    • Tom, it wasn’t until my daughter went to nursing school that I realized just how difficult a nurse’s job really is. They learn so much about the human condition, both in the sense of illness and injury but also by working with patients and their families when they are most vulnerable. When the nurses at the Devonshire Care Centre chose NOT to walk out they showed tremendous integrity. I only hope that Park Place demonstrates the same good faith when they return to the bargaining table in January.

      All the best to you and your family this Christmas season.

  2. champspersonaltraining says:

    I honk Susan. The nurses I’ve met are all exceptional professionals. It blows my mind what this elderly care facility is doing. Nursing has got to be one of the most stressful and tedious occupations. Nurses deserve every penny they earn and more. They deal day in and day out with individuals at their most vulnerable, weak, or mentally challenged. I hope the nurses do walk out. They have my support.

  3. Thanks for the “honk” Joanna. I remember seeing a group of nurses on strike in Calgary. They stood on the side of the road smiling and waving at the cars as they whizzed by…and every single one of us honked in support. None of us appreciates just how much the nurses do for us until we’re stuck in hospital or visiting an elderly relative in a seniors’ facility. It’s only then that we become aware of how much the nursing staff does day in and day out. They certainly deserve our support!

  4. Elaine Fleming, Whitemud Citizens for Public Health says:

    Thanks for highlighting Park Place’s stated “hiring policy”, which is obviously at odds with their actual staffing and wage policies. It’s hard to believe they get anyone to work for them. I’m not anti-business, goodness knows, but there is an obvious conflict of interest when cutthroat business practices are applied to services where a vulnerable group of citizens is involved. This actually applies across the whole healthcare spectrum from newborns and sick children, expectant mothers, emergency patients, people requiring surgery or dialysis for instance, cancer patients, frail seniors, people in palliative care and so on. The profit motive can create a tenuous set of circumstances for delivery of care; as we all know in business world, players come and go, bankruptcies occur, ownership changes. The health care of our citizens needs to be reliable, planned for, regulated and first and foremost for the benefit of those citizens. And towards providing that, we need a well-trained, decently remunerated (as well as dedicated!) work force of caregivers.

    • Elaine, I understand that Park Place is the same corporation that owns Hardisty Care Centre where most of the employees, including the RNs. are immigrant women. I find it hard to understand how an employer who says “dignity, respect, trust and empathy” is a guiding principle to helps it make “ethical and focused decisions” can refuse to pay its nurses the going wage. Your point about this problem being wide spread throughout the entire healthcare spectrum provides the clearest reason to support the nurses of Local 417 and all of the other nurses and healthcare workers who’ll not doubt be fighting a similar battle as we progress through the 2013 contract renegotiation process.

  5. Carlos Beca says:

    Interesting posting. I have to confess that I am not as positive about the nurses union as you seem to be. Unfortunately Unions and corporations have had a pretty nasty record in the last 50 years, created by that human greed that slowly has been destroying everything we have been able to create as human beings. Without the unions though I am quite certain we would a little more than worms for the elites fishing rods.

    In Alberta, since the so called ‘Klein Revolution’, nurses and teachers were treated like scum. To me, the reason why the health care system has been deteriorating despite the fact that is one of the richest in Canada, is exactly because of the moral destruction that went on for years. A government headed by a drunk drop-out, gave itself the right to basically wipeout any pride and dedication the nurses and in part the doctors had for the system. This is palpable especially in our emergency rooms where one feels more like a product in a mass production line than in a hospital. In my case for example, I had a horrible allergy attack and rode it off for 4 hours close to anaphylactic shock in the chairs of the waiting room to only be met by a doctor that scolded me for not having gone there faster because I could have died from it. Amazing really that this happens in one of the richest places on Earth. Since that day, and after witnessing other cases I have no trust whatsoever in emergency rooms in the city and much less in the any possibility of this government to fix it at all. They do not have to go through it and so it does not matter. I am quite sure that Alison Redford will not have an allergy attack in a waiting room and neither will Fred Horne or any of them, with or without a VP phone call from any of the current cookie monster in charge.

    In this Christmas Eve of 2012 all I want is to understand why someone would think that places that take care of our parents and grandparents should be run by for profit companies? I would love to be able to understand why anyone would convince us that more efficiency and profit from the weakness of others, sometimes in vicious ways, is the way to organize our societies. I am an atheist and it horrifies me that most Christian and non-Christian religious people around me can think that this is alright despite their so called love for God and others. It is appaling that we continue to accept this state of affairs in the way we live our lives. This kind of profit according to any true religion is abhorrent whether people like it or not. The fact that people have modified their levels of acceptance of exploitation to adjust to their new levels of greed and to an economic system totally out of control may seem acceptable but in the end the final Universal balance will take care of us. This is just an example, but at all levels we are now in a path that only those that do not want to see it, is going to take us to a spiritual Cul de Sac that will punish us for generations to come if we survive it.

    Merry Christmas to you all and thank you for allowing me to participate in this conversation between friends that I came to respect and enjoy in our blog way.

    • Carlos, it sounds like you’re lucky to be alive after your nasty experience in ER! I’ve had two experiences with ER wait times. The first was when my daughter suffered a gall bladder attack which ultimately resulted in surgery (unfortunately by the time she convinced the nurses that she really was in agony and saw a doctor things had gotten pretty bad). My second experience was a few years later when my husband suffered a stroke. In his case the ER experience was amazingly. The nurses and doctors were excellent. I’m not sure whether the difference was due to their symptoms, the fact that one was at the Rocky and the other at Foothills, or what, but it certainly demonstrated what good vs bad ER treatment was like.

      I’m sure that the government’s ineptitude (starting with Ralph Klein) and an overly bureaucratic process coupled with the sense of entitlement that we see coming out of AHS have seriously undermined morale. I worry that the government will argue that the fact the system is a mess means that more services must be outsourced to the private sector, which leads us to the situation with the Devonshire nurses who will be forced to strike in order to get a decent wage. Unbelievable in a province as rich as Alberta.

      Merry Christmas Carlos and thanks for being part of the Soapbox blog community.

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