Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Editorials

Band-aids

A last-minute band-aid attempt to staunch the long-standing flow of staff from west Quebec hospitals to better-paying jobs in Ontario appears to be backfiring.
It started with a pay bonus offered to imaging technicians in Hull and Gatineau hospitals as an incentive to stay put on the Quebec side of the border. Some worried this might induce people working in other west Quebec hospitals to apply for jobs in Hull or Gatineau where they would qualify for the bonus. They were right.
The risk may have been somewhat reduced when the offer of a stay-in-Quebec bonus was extended to staff in hospitals in Maniwaki and Papineau, but oddly not in Pontiac or Wakefield.
As our front-page story recounts, four imaging technicians currently working full-time in the Pontiac have applied to positions in Gatineau, and there appears to be a possibility that a fifth has applied to a position in Ontario.
So now, instead of competing with Ontario hospitals for staff, we are now also competing with other hospitals in the Outaouais, thanks to this ill-advised move of offering bonuses to staff in some but not all hospitals along the Quebec-Ontario border.
It’s a decision that could be made only by someone far away and with no knowledge of our local circumstances and our local needs.
A few years ago, we had local governance of our health and social services, right here in the Pontiac, and one of the best-run health care programs in the province to show for it. But it all came crashing down when a brain surgeon-turned-premier had the brainwave to centralize decision-making regionally, taking the well-being of our hospital and its patients out of the hands of a local governing body and putting it into the hands of a few bureaucrats sitting in offices somewhere in Gatineau.
We thought that was bad enough. But things have gotten even worse. Now, a minister in an office even further away in Quebec City has decided which imaging technicians in the Outaouais region should receive bonuses and which should not.
Of the four communities within easy commuting distance to Ontario hospitals, imaging technicians working in only two, Papineau and Maniwaki, were selected for the bonus, while those in Wakefield and Pontiac were passed over.
Asked for an explanation for the distinction, the provincial minister responsible for the Outaouais said that the further away a hospital is from Ottawa, the smaller the temptation for their imaging techs to bolt.
Not a very convincing argument, given that all the hospital towns on this side of the border are an easy drive to those on the Ontario side, whether its in Pembroke, Renfrew or Ottawa. All of which leaves many to wonder if there might be something else behind this move.
Some have attributed the decision not to award bonuses to Pontiac’s techs to the fact that six of the eight positions here are currently filled, so the problem isn’t considered acute and so doesn’t require an immediate response. This may change now that five of the six are now in question.
Some have speculated that the high degree of loyalty among Pontiac’s imaging techs to staying here is being taken for granted and exploited.
Inevitably, still others have wondered whether the linguistic profiles of Wakefield and Shawville are somehow at the root of the problem. Few here would find it difficult to believe that a government that has found so many ways to make life difficult for its linguistic and religious minorities might allow our local healthcare services to languish.
We prefer to give the decision-makers the benefit of the doubt, and are willing to believe their solution to our staffing problems, though well-intended, simply produced unintended consequences.
But however unintended the consequences may have been, it doesn’t mean they were unforeseeable. The underlying problem is structural: the further away from here that decisions are made about our healthcare needs, the worse those decisions are going to be.
It may not be a case of ignoring our needs as much as it is a matter of being ignorant of our needs. Anyone familiar with the Pontiac would know it is an easy hop from here to several hospitals in Ontario. We know that because we often have to make that hop to get the healthcare services we can’t get here.
And anyone familiar with the Pontiac would know it’s not just about the money. It’s also about the working conditions as staff dwindles and the pressures on those who remain only build to a point where work-life-balance is a fantasy. And this applies not only to imaging technicians but to people in all manner of positions essential to the provision of excellent health care.
It has long been obvious that pay parity between hospitals in Quebec and Ontario would be required to stop the brain drain from here to there, and not just in this or that problem area of the month, but across the board.
What is happening now is a train wreck that has been in the making for years. It requires immediate attention and rectification. And if there is any doubt about what is needed here, just put some local people back in charge.

Charles Dickson

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