Two Ottawa MPPs have written a scathing letter to provincial Health Minister Sylvia Jones, asking that the government investigate the management at Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre.
The missive came just days after four PQCHC health workers with decades of cumulative experience lost their jobs without cause, the latest in what Ottawa West-Nepean’s Chandra Pasma and Ottawa Centre’s Joel Harden, both NDP MPPs, describe as a string of similar staff reductions in recent years.
“Over the past three years, multiple employees with long-tenure and good performance reviews have been terminated or have left due to what they felt were unsustainable working conditions, leaving the PQCHC’s primary care clinics and other programs short-staffed and unable to deliver adequate levels of care to patients,” their letter says.
“We have been told that over the past three years as many as one-third of the staff of the PQCHC have been terminated or have left,” the letter continues. “Although non-disclosure agreements prevent all of the details from being known, we do know that there are multiple wrongful dismissal suits against the PQCHC, diverting funding from programs towards legal fees.”
Two family physicians, a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse were given notices of termination without cause in April. Their last day of work was July 29.
The centre has reportedly hired people to replace the nurse and nurse practitioner. The replacements, according to current and former staff members, are fairly new graduates. But the centre had not yet replaced the two doctors as of mid-July. The centre says it expects to be fully staffed before the end of the summer.
While indicating it had wait lists hundreds of people long, the centre said the terminations were part of a restructuring that will allow it to serve 2,500 more health-care clients without new funding.
In a statement Thursday evening, the centre’s CEO, Christopher McIntosh, said, “Over the past year, my team and I have been working to reshape our primary care and mental health services to promote collaboration, innovation, and integration to better serve clients. A crucial step in this process was the creation of the new Integrated Healthcare portfolio, bringing together our primary healthcare providers into one team to deliver more streamlined services to meet the physical, mental, and social health care needs of our clients.”
McIntosh also said that the overall staffing levels at the centre had not been cut back.
“Changes have been made to staffing but there has not been a reduction in overall positions, and more importantly, no impact on our health care delivery. To provide better patient care, we had to make some difficult decisions.”
To achieve its goals of serving more patients without additional funding, many primary care appointments will be shortened from the current default of 30 minutes to an average of 20 minutes.
“We know from other providers that the average appointment can be shorter and address the complexity of our clients’ needs without impacting care,” McIntosh said last month.
The centre, he added, “needs to do a better job” of asking clients in advance what the appointment is about and then booking the appropriate amount of time with the appropriate professional, which could include a dietician, chiropodist or registered nurse, rather than a physician or nurse practitioner. Clients who require longer appointments will still have them, he said.
“The plan is to make care better.”
Chandra and Harden fear it won’t.
“We have heard similar concerns from clients and staff of other programs within the PQCHC,” their letter continues. “The termination of workers with good performance reviews severing the relationship between clients and trusted care providers, a toxic workplace culture that led to the departure of employees, allegations of bullying and harassment, programs being left critically short-staffed, funding not being allocated where funders and donors expected that funds would be used, and a lower level of service provided to communities in the PQCHC catchment than what is being provided by other CHCs in Ottawa.”
According to the MPPs, McIntosh has refused their requests for a meeting, while board chair Janet Bowes has only indicated that the board will meet with them sometime in the future.
“We therefore have no ability to ascertain that restructuring decisions are being made in the best interests of patients,” the letter concludes, “and funds are being spent as intended by the ministries, municipality, and service organizations funding the programs and services provided by the PQCHC. However, given that patients and clients of the PQCHC are already going without care and essential supports, we feel that this matter can’t wait and we urge you to open an investigation in the PQCHC immediately.”
In his statement Thursday, McIntosh confirmed that both MPPs had reached out regarding the restructuring, “and we look forward to meeting with them shortly to discuss this matter.”
The ministry of health did not respond to a request for comment sent Thursday afternoon.
With files from Elizabeth Payne