Winnipeg home-care workers not told when clients test positive for COVID-19, union claims

The union that represents health-care support staff in Winnipeg says some of its members have to beg for personal protective equipment, and aren’t being told when they’re working with a patient who has COVID-19.

In some cases, home-care workers aren’t being given information on whether their client is COVID-19-positive, or waiting for test results, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204 says.

It alleges the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has directed managers not to to give home-care workers that information.

CUPE Local 204 — which represents 14,500 health-care support staff within the WRHA and Manitoba Shared Health — filed dozens of grievances this week at health-care facilities overseen by those employers, according to a news release issued on Wednesday.

“That the WRHA’s direction is to hide critical workplace safety information from front-line home care workers is, in our opinion, illegal,” union president Debbie Boissonneault said in an emailed statement. She believes that’s a violation of the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

“Withholding this information puts other clients and the general public at risk.”

Boissoneault says working in home care is different from working in other health-care facilities. In a setting like a hospital, there might be a COVID-19 unit or room, where staff know they’re working with someone who has tested positive and can take appropriate precautions.

When a home-care worker goes into someone’s residence, they may not know.

“Home-care workers are again being treated like their health and safety does not matter, and we have had enough,” said Boissonneault. 

In a news release sent earlier Wednesday, the union said it’s also heard from members who say they aren’t always getting protective gear like N95 masks or face shields. Some have had to fight for personal protective equipment, the union says.

“We believe if a health-care worker is assigned to a COVID unit, resident or client, they should be automatically provided every possible protection available without delay or resistance,” Boissonneault said.

CUPE is encouraging its members to refuse unsafe work.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the WRHA said the health authority “is aware of this grievance brought forward by CUPE and will be working through the standard grievance resolution process to address the union’s concerns.”

“We will not discuss the details or particulars of the grievance in the media but will reserve those discussions to be had directly with CUPE as we work towards a resolution of their concerns,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

CBC News has also contacted Shared Health and the province for a response.