Winnipeg home care workers asked by health authority to take on duties outside their training: union leader

Some home care and support workers are being asked to take on more tasks than they are trained to do — and their union leader is concerned it may be related to a potential nurses strike.

The duties of home care workers involve helping clients with light house chores such as laundry. But the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is asking those workers in the city to monitor patients’ blood pressure, blood sugar levels and deliver their daily medications, said Debbie Boissonneault, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204.

“These are people that aren’t even health-care aides, let alone nurses,” said Boissonneault, whose organization represents more than 14,000 health-care workers in Manitoba.

Last fall, the health authority started shifting certain patient and client care tasks from nurses to health care aides. Support staff are provided minimal training and no extra compensation for the new tasks, according to a news release issued by the union Friday.

Similar changes were introduced to home care in the third wave of the pandemic, it added. 

The health authority began training staff in “recent weeks” to prepare for the strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic’s third wave. Part of that training includes learning to perform tasks that can be done by other types of health-care workers, a WRHA spokesperson told CBC News.

Debbie Boissonneault, president of CUPE Local 204, fears asking home care workers to monitor patients blood levels and ensure they take their medicine could lead to poorer patient care. (Debbie Boissonneault/Facebook)

“A handful of sites and community areas” taught how to implement those types of care in a team approach, but most of the training for Winnipeg workers has been “prepatory only,” the spokesperson said.

There is ongoing discussion about how to deliver patient care in homes, but the health authority hasn’t given any instruction with regards to assigning overlapping duties, the spokesperson said.

Some home care workers have contacted the union because they’re uncomfortable with the new duties, said Boissonneault, but those same people also see it as something they have to do to help out the overall effort.

“I do agree that … everyone has stepped up to take on roles that may be a bit different,” she said.

“But I fear the risks for patient care when you’re getting someone who’s not certified or trained to do those jobs.”

The union has heard the delegation of duties is unrelated to the strain on health care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Boissonneault. But she fears it may be related to a potential nurses strike.

The Manitoba Nurses Union, which represents 12,000 nurses in the province, is considering holding a strike vote because they’ve been working without a new contract for four years.

Boissonneault is concerned that making home care and support workers take on more duties would allow the province to further delay offering a new contract, she said.

The union has filed grievances about the additional duties. The Winnipeg health authority has received the grievances and will respond to them through the processes laid out in the collective agreements, said the WRHA spokesperson.