Off the Beaten Path: Deer Lodge Centre - The Ride Continues
Veterans Hospitals, once owned and operated by Veterans Affairs Canada have methodically been transferred to provincial jurisdiction. This occurred in Edmonton in 1980 (Colonel Belcher Hospital), Winnipeg in 1983 (Deer Lodge Centre) and Saskatoon in 1996 (Saskatoon Veterans Home). This process is currently underway in Montreal in relation to the St. Anne de Bellevue Veterans Hospital.
In this issue, we examine the successes and failures of the transition of Deer Lodge Centre from a single-purposed entity serving our Veterans, to a multi-faceted part of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. (WRHA)
A Brief History
Built in 1916, Veterans Affairs Canada opened a convalescent hospital for our veterans returning from service in World War I. Deer Lodge Hospital physicians and nurses, represented by The Professional Institute, provided the medical care.
By the 1980's acute Veteran needs had diminished while community geriatric needs increased. On April 1, 1983 Deer Lodge Centre (DLC) was transferred to provincial jurisdiction. With a $30 million cash infusion, Deer Lodge Centre would be enlarged and transformed to a Centre of geriatric excellence serving the Winnipeg community while continuing to dedicate services to our Veterans and their families.
Our members had a difficult choice: remain at Deer Lodge with the uncertainty of a new employer; or stay with the federal government. Employees received surplus status prior to the transfer, and lay-off status upon transfer. This afforded employees priority for other federal positions; severance pay upon transfer, and continued rights to priority appointment in the federal system for a period of one year post-transfer. Most of our members decided to stay.
Upon transfer to provincial jurisdiction, our right to continue representing our members would cease, and the Collective Agreement terminate. Although free to be non-unionized or select a different union, our members stuck with PIPSC. A majority of physicians and nurses signed new membership cards. PIPSC secured provincial certification from the Manitoba Labour Board.
The Dark Years
Anticipated fears started to materialize as the Conservative government’s attack on health care combined with ruthless management practices increasingly took hold at Deer Lodge Centre. By the latter part of the 1990's, grievances, arbitrations and absenteeism were at an all-time high.
Employees Fight Back
In history, DLC professional staff had never so much as rejected a settlement. However, even this group of quiet and extremely dedicated staff had enough. In 2000, for the first time in history, the physicians unanimously voted to strike. A strike deadline was set and narrowly averted. In 2002, in an equally-unprecedented move, the Nurses voted to strike. It appeared this would not be averted.
Just prior to the first Nursing strike in DLC history, union representatives were called to a meeting. It was announced that effective immediately, Deer Lodge Centre had been taken over by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA). The Chief Executive Officer was immediately released, followed soon after by his henchmen.
The Union immediately met with the new DLC Chief Operating Officer and the WRHA Vice President of Human Resources. The strike issues were easily resolved and in that process an important realization became apparent. There existed a genuine mutual desire to end the fighting and to develop a constructive relationship for the benefit of our members, the patients and residents, and the overall community.
A New Relationship
The relationship had hit rock bottom. Distrust and resentment, along with hope of improvement, peppered our dealings. However, different than their predecessors, this new regime did not see us as an enemy. Continued dealing, in particular with DLC Chief Operating Officer Real Cloutier, demonstrated a genuine respect and desire to partner with us in the interest of patient and resident care. The perceived superior-subordinate relationship had vanished. We were treated as stakeholders, representing their strongest resource. This required change on the unions part, too. The constant fight, while exhausting, generated solid membership involvement and support. This now needed to be channelled into constructive dealings. Our members wanted management to hear them.
We wanted to be respected as the professional staff’s legitimate representatives. Suddenly we had what we wanted. Were we up to the challenge? Could we change our methods developed to protect from the threat that no longer existed?
With the transfer, Deer Lodge changed from an acute-care hospital to a long-term care facility with an emphasis on rehabilitation. Today, it is the largest long-term care facility in Manitoba with a bed capacity of 431, along with numerous day programs. DLC continues to serve our veterans by maintaining 155 beds dedicated to veterans and their families. In addition, Deer Lodge is a leader in rehabilitation, outreach, geriatric mental health, respiratory therapy, psychogeriatrics, Day Hospital, and Adult Day Care for cognitively impaired community clients. Additionally, DLC runs a Stress Injuries Clinic that is part of a national network of clinics providing service to active military personnel and veterans. It has recently opened the Program for the Integrated and Managed Care of the Elderly dedicated to providing solid interdisciplinary care and support to clients who wish to remain in their own homes to the greatest extent possible.
In addition to exciting opportunities at Deer Lodge Centre, all unions and employers throughout all nine WRHA hospitals have agreed on complete and seamless mobility of seniority and benefits, upon transfer. Our members in Winnipeg are able to take advantage of any appealing opportunity within the system without any adverse effect on their accumulated seniority or benefits.
Success or Failure
Twenty seven years and many battle scars later, the transfer from federal to provincial jurisdiction has been a success. We have achieved here what seems impossible elsewhere - a relationship based on mutual respect; and complete mobility within a large healthcare system.
Grievances and arbitrations continue where we don’t agree with management’s interpretation. Fair enough. Discipline and discharge are fought vigilantly. Achievements at the bargaining table are just as tough as ever. But along the path with the WRHA, we have achieved what was seriously lacking; that is, a level of mutual respect for the other and an equal desire to create and maintain a progressive workplace and top-notch health care facility. That is what labour relations in a mature environment is all about!
Contributor: Joe Ahrens, Negotiator
A Well Deserved Retirement!
Dr. Narendra Jain
After 28 years as a House Medical Officer at Deer Lodge Centre, founding President of the Deer Lodge Centre Medical Doctor Group, Dr. Narendra Jain, has announced his retirement.
Dr. Jain started his career as a physician at Deer Lodge Centre with Veterans Affairs Canada. He remained with DLC when it transferred to provincial jurisdiction, converting from an acute to long-term care facility.
By 1988 the physicians realized that as a non-unionized group, they had little clout. Under Dr. Jain's leadership the Deer Lodge Centre Medical Doctors Group was formed. He has been at the helm ever since.
Involved in every set of negotiations, Dr. Jain oversaw many accomplishments over his 22 years as President of the DLC-MD Group, including significant salary increases and the near strike of 2000. Asked which set of negotiations were most exciting, he said "the first one. In medicine you take the problem and deal with it. I learned quickly it's a lot different in this business".
Congratulations on your retirement, Dr. Jain. You have served your colleagues and the Institute well.