Can youth teach us how to be healthy?

Deanna in her basketball jersey

Deanna spent the day with SEIU Healthcare as part of the “Take Your Kid to Work Day” program.

Hi. My name is Deanna but people call me De. My mom works for the SEIU Healthcare as an accountant. I’m not really a numbers person but I do know a lot about health.

I am what I like to call a sporty, outgoing girl. I play basketball as a point guard at my high school in North York.

I do track (short distance running), and also enjoy volley-ball (my favourite sport). Being healthy is one of the most important things if you want to be athletically built. I know being healthy all the time is hard. I don’t always follow the rules but there will be consequences. I learned this the hard way.

I am a person that would eat junk once in a while…which really means a lot. Sometimes I would eat so much that I would get sick. Sometimes I knew when to stop and eat something healthy, but others days I wouldn’t care what is healthy or not as long as it tasted good.

It wasn’t until I joined my high school basketball team that I noticed how consuming junk food/drinks made me feel. When I made it on the team, my coach drilled it into my and my teammates’ heads that we are not allowed to eat anything unhealthy.

Let me tell those who don’t know anything about basketball: my girls’ basketball season is from September to November. That is 3 MONTHS of eating healthy and being fit.  At first I didn’t follow the rules but during the games that I would get tired easily, and that affected the game.

My brother told me a story, saying “If you have a car and it breaks down one day, would you give the car fuel or juice?” I said fuel, because putting juice in would make it worse.”

The same goes for our body. You need to give what it needs and not give it what it doesn’t need, damaging it more. Being healthy gives our body natural sugar that helps your energy more than putting sweets in it.

This is my story about my experience with getting healthy and would be happy if it helped someone else’s life.


Public pensions are more stable than we think

“Pension funds are wildly unsustainable,” says the Toronto Sun.

The National Post stated there is a “problem of unaffordable public pensions.”

When you listen to conservatives talk about pensions, it sounds like the whole pension system that has provided retirement security for millions of Canadians for nearly 50 years is suddenly bankrupting the country.

But how bad is the situation? Are our pensions really that unaffordable?

Not according to the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), the organization who looks after pension plans for most of Ontario’s hospital workers. They recently issued a statement saying the pension fund is in good financial shape. In fact, HOOPP has $1.15 for every pension dollar it spends. It also posted a 10% growth rate over the past 10 years. That means nearly 300,000 hospital workers have enough money invested in HOOPP to retire comfortably.

Contrary to what right-wing pundits are saying, public run pension plans are in good financial shape and they provide better retirement security than most private sector plans.

Sometimes people get angry about how strong public sector pensions are. But instead of attacking public sector workers, they should begin demanding private employers to provide the same type of pensions.

76% of private sector employees don’t have a pension. Half of the employees in the private sector who have a pension have defined contribution plans. So if an employee contributes 5% of their incomes into an RRSP, the employer will match that amount. But these plans are much more unpredictable and generally don’t provide much money to retire. Sometimes employers will only match a maximum 1% contribution. 1% from the average annual Canadian salary, which is $38,700 a year, is not enough to retire on.

Big funds like HOOPP bring financial expertise to manage these funds properly. They also lack a “for-profit” motive, which keeps fees low and returns high. They are also more able to handle market fluctuations than an individual’s personal RRSP.

It’s time for the private sector to step up to the plate and begin providing their employees with pensions. They have done it in the past and there is no financial reason why they can’t do this today.

What is a Developmental Service Worker (DSW)?

January 21 was DSW Day. It’s a day SEIU Healthcare celebrates every year to acknowledge the important role DSWs play in our healthcare system.

What is a DSW, you may ask?

They are healthcare workers who care for people suffering from a mental disability. This covers a variety of different developmental and mental health issues. Many times these clients need a high level of supervision in their daily living.

Sometimes their clients suffer from several different disorders at the same time. For example, a client could be suffering from three different conditions: a developmental disability, Tourette syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. Their health and psychological needs require constant attention.

Many times their clients get frustrated and upset over circumstances they can’t control. They can be abusive to themselves and others. Many DSWs have an important soft skill that they use to talk to their clients, calm them down and uncover the root of their anger.

Not only do these professionals look after day-to-day items like cleaning, laundry and looking after their financial affairs, DSWs also take their clients out to the community. They cannot be cooped up in a home all day. They need to visit the mall, dine at a restaurant, and do some volunteer work. Some DSWs have even helped their clients find jobs in the community.

Over 4,000 SEIU Healthcare members work in the community care sector. Hats off to them. They look after those who cannot look after themselves.

Stories from the frontline: What Cathy told the Minister of Health

“At the end of the day, I want to be able to go home and know I’ve done everything I possibly can for the residents.”

That’s the first priority for Cathy Labrash and her coworkers who care for people at a long-term care home in Sudbury, and that’s what she told Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Eric Hoskins at a meeting on Wednesday, January 21.

Cathy Labrash, Registered Practical Nurse from Capreol.
Cathy Labrash, Registered Practical Nurse from Capreol.

SEIU Healthcare members are committed to sharing our stories from the frontline to make sure patients are receiving the best care and healthcare workers are supported at the same time.

Ultimately, that means that we require more provincial funding to get more staff working shifts in long-term care homes, and to encourage them to stay in the sector.

Cathy met in person with Dr. Hoskins in Sudbury, where she works as a quality assurance coordinator and nurse with a facility home to 230 people.

She has lived in Capreol, her hometown with a population of 4,000, all her life and has been a registered practical nurse (RPN) since 1992. She did her preceptorship at a long-term care home straight out of school.

“I just love seniors, they’re great people,” says Cathy. “I ended up staying.”

She had just a few minutes of one-on-one time with Dr. Hoskins, and used this opportunity to drive home the number one challenge facing the long-term care sector: staffing.

Although she is an RPN, Cathy emphasized the heavy workloads of personal support workers (PSWs) in the homes.

PSWs take care of all activities of daily living (mobility, toileting, meals, etc.), and are each responsible for 10 or more residents at any given time. RPNs are normally responsible for around 38 residents, but when they are short-staffed, that number doubles.

“The workload is tremendous,” she says. “We take good care of the residents, but they need more of us out there. It is difficult to find the time to even talk with them.”

Cathy is thankful for the opportunity to sit down with the Minister and speak with him about delivering better healthcare to Sudbury families.

“He was receptive to what I was saying. He’s listening to the stories now, so hopefully this is a start to something better.”


Roadmaps Chronicles: SEIU on the road!

After being on the road with Manny and Sharleen last year during the Justice for PSWs campaign, there was talk of another road trip to connect with members in units across the province. I know first-hand the impact of getting to visit the work places, shaking hands with a person and looking them in the eyes versus an era of retweets and “likes”.

I’m thrilled that we’ll be hitting the road this fall to meet with members on their own turf- in their local community!

With Toronto being called a hub of social media in Ontario, it’ll be interesting to see the interactions and how things shift in terms of how we connect with our members a little further away from the “big city”. For example, our members in Thunder Bay usually come to us, or send us submissions to events online. This is the first time in 3 years that anyone in our communications department has ventured out to Thunder Bay to see the members directly. I’m looking forward to being able to build some connections to members who actually read and are engaged with our content online.

Look for me at your local event- I’ll probably be carrying a camera! Tell me what I should check out for the limited time I’m there and I’ll be sure to connect with you personally while I’m there, even give you a shout out on our blog!

I’ve been known to stay inside the hotel and use the gym equipment, but maybe in Thunder Bay I’ll take a jog past the Terry Fox monument or if I’m feeling super lazy, I’ll try and take a train around Centennial Park. In reality I doubt I’ll have much free time to do any of that because we will be visiting members for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I try my best when I take pictures to take a moment and introduce myself. I’ve got pretty good at remembering faces but names are another story. I could tell you the last time I took your photos, what event you’ve attended and where to find it on our server. Names however tend to escape me almost as soon as they’ve been shared; horrible I know, but I do tend to meet a lot of people. Please forgive me. Usually the names I do remember are the people who hate to have their picture taken (and have told me so on numerous occasions) or people whose photos we’ve used for larger campaigns.

I’m looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible out on the road, with your families, on your turf. Let’s talk, let’s have coffee, let’s make SEIU Healthcare better together!


Let’s talk about suicide and our responsibility

Like many, I have had friends and family traumatized and impacted by the suicides of close ones. In the 1960s a great-aunt of mine died this way but it was kept a secret from most of the family for years out of shame due to the taboo nature of it at the time. She had three young kids.

Despite the awkwardness and pain of talking about it, suicide is not entirely unusual.

Ten times more people died from suicide than from homicide over the last few years in Canada. That’s more than 3,000 people each year. All ages, genders. Think of how much time we spend in fear of others hurting us. It’s harder to talk about our own mental health, and for healthy people, it’s hard to understand the urge to die.

A quote from the American novelist David Foster Wallace about suicidal depression is floating around the internet, from his book Infinite Jest. The writing is quite good, and heart-wrenching.

Take a minute to let it sink in, to empathize with and imagine the pain and the discomfort so tortuous that a person would actually rather not live than continue their life under those circumstances.

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

As a society, we have to do better than be able to talk about suicide. Now that we have started lifting the stigma around mental illness and conversations about different mental conditions and disabilities are starting to enter the mainstream, we have to put our money where our mouth is: we actually have to make sure healthcare system works well for those who are in crisis, or getting there.

Unfortunately right now our public healthcare system is lacking in that regard; waitlists are full, solutions hard to find, the system confusing and intimidating to navigate for anyone but the most mentally calm and healthy, and the good doctors costly.

Warning signs for suicide include extreme mood swings, talking about suicide, talking about being a burden. To talk to someone for free and confidentially, call your local Distress Centre.


Welcoming Ontario’s new Minister of Health

Yesterday, after the whirlwind of the provincial election, Premier Wynne named her cabinet Ministers—-the prestigious jobs responsible for running our province’s most important programs and services, while managing budgets.

The healthcare portfolio is headed in a new direction. Former Minister of Health Deb Matthews, who was instrumental in getting homecare raises in this year’s budget and raising the profile of personal support workers, is taking on a new role with the Treasury Board.

To remember Deb Matthews’ work on homecare, watch her walk a day on the job with SEIU Healthcare member Juliette:

Dr. Eric Hoskins is the new Minister of Health. This has to be one of the most difficult positions in government because healthcare gets the most funding, but also has many challenges that plague the sector. People’s lives and jobs are at stake, so there is a lot of pressure.

Here is hoping that with his background and experience as a medical doctor and international humanitarian, Dr. Hoskins works with the experts to usher in a new era of progress in healthcare. As a labour union SEIU Healthcare will be in contact with him to improve the lives of healthcare workers, especially through the “Sweet $16” campaign for all homecare workers.

Deb Matthews did the work of getting the funds committed directly for wage increases because she knew homecare personal support worker compensation is much below what it should be, and what workers are able to get through traditional bargaining. Dr. Hoskins must now follow through on these promises as soon as parliament returns (date to be announced).