Psychological distress: who’ll take care of personnel in essential services?

Psychological distress: who’ll take care of personnel in essential services?

Last March, Health and Social Services Minister Danielle McCann took strict measures to curb the pandemic. However noble the government’s intentions, its actions may come at a steep cost. By modifying the collective agreements of public-sector employees in health and social service facilities, the government upped the powers of managers to offset labour shortages that had been rampant in these facilities for far too long. Managers were given carte-blanche, with practically no safeguards to prevent them from taking shortcuts when implementing such measures in the bureaucratic behemoths that are now our integrated centres (CISSS and CIUSSS).

Some employers have abused these extra powers and are refusing to allow their personnel any respite, forgetting that these workers are human beings who have been under constant pressure since the outbreak of the crisis, struggling to balance family and work responsibilities. There are concerns that the integrated centres’ handling of the crisis and the institutional negligence and abuse of power in the health and social services system could have grave consequences. We are concerned about the mental health of the professionals and technicians we represent. Some have already fallen in battle and are now on sick leave for psychological distress. Others are considering earlier retirement. Worse still, some have already opted to quit, exhausted by the inordinate demands they’ve been forced to take on.

To add insult to injury, personnel who have been working tirelessly every day on the front lines may no longer be allowed to take their vacations, which are the last bulwark safeguarding their psychological and physical health. Vacations are in no way a luxury – far from it! This period of rest and replenishment is crucial for employees to unwind and be able to continue the fight against the invisible enemy, the coronavirus. At all cost, action must be taken to prevent our members from buckling under the pressure and collapsing in exhaustion. We need these technicians and professions in our health and social services system. They are vital to meet the needs of the population during the crisis, and in its aftermath.

As things return to normal, serious ramifications of the COVID crisis are to be expected, causing a major ripple-effect in the health and social services system. People requiring mental health services and support for addiction or rehabilitation will have regressed after being without services for months on end. Their need for our members’ services will be heightened, and that’s not counting the needs of new clients who will be added to the already sizeable waiting lists. It’s crucial for personnel to be in optimal shape. We are calling on the MSSS and all the integrated university health and social service centres in Montréal to take immediate action as employers, by guaranteeing all employees the right to a well-deserved summer vacation, just as the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’Île-de-Montréal has done. Distress is rampant among health and social services personnel. Vacations are vital to get through the crisis!

The co-signers are APTS provincial representatives for professional and technical personnel at four integrated university centres (CIUSSS) on the Island of Montréal.

By Benoit Audet, Montréal West Island | Caroline Letarte-Simoneau, Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal | Daniel Dubé, Nord-de-l’Île-de-Montréal | Teresa Muccari, West Central Montreal | June 12, 2020

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