Sixty nurses laid off as Menno Hospital contracts out staffing

Nurses’ union protests move with ‘information line’

Nurses protest outside Menno Hospital.

Nurses protest outside Menno Hospital.

Sixty nurses have been laid off at Menno Hospital, a 151-bed seniors’ care home in central Abbotsford, in an effort to reduce costs for the deficit-ridden facility.

Staffing will be taken over by an outside contractor, and the nurses have been told they can re-apply for jobs at the home. Karen Baillie, CEO of Menno Place, which runs Menno Hospital and five other care facilities, says the new jobs will “definitely be (at) a lower wage.”

Menno Place has run a deficit of $1.62 million since 2011, Baillie said, and this is the latest in a string of cost-cutting measures which have included layoffs of ten executives and many support staff. A staffing contractor has not yet been chosen, but Bailie said an agreement is likely to be signed by the end of the week. The nurses’ employment ends at different times based on seniority, but all will be gone before December.

The decision was announced to staff yesterday morning. Some of the laid-off nurses, along with over 100 other members of the B.C. Nurses’ Union, set up an “information line” in front of the home today, carrying signs criticizing Menno Place.

“It’s horrible. We have families to support, houses, mortgages,” said Doris Rettich, one of the laid-off registered nurses. “We’ll have to apply back and see if they would hire us….Some of us have been working here for over 35 years, so it’s huge because we care for the residents, they’re like our grandmas and grandpas.”

Menno Hospital provides “complex care” to its senior residents, many of whom have serious health issues and require 24-hour nursing support. Eleven full-time employees were laid off, along with 18 part-time and 32 casual. Fifteen are registered nurses, and 45 are licensed practical nurses. Menno Place, one of the region’s largest employers, has over 600 staff at its six facilities, and its funding is provided by Fraser Health.

Katherine Hamilton, the Fraser Valley regional chair for the B.C. Nurses’ Union, said she’s convinced the new contractor jobs will be non-union, with few or no benefits. Baillie said this isn’t confirmed yet, although most contractors in the running don’t have unionized staff.

Menno Place management have also introduced an “attendance management” program, used to track sick days in an effort to reduce employees’ time off, and they have hired a contractor to try and reduce the amount of money lost on WorkSafe claims.

Bailie said contracting out staffing was a tough, but necessary decision to balance Menno Place’s budget. She expects this move will save about $500,000. “We’ve basically done everything we can think of. This was our last choice,” she said. “We hope this change will help make this operation sustainable for a long time.”

Hamilton and the protesting nurses said the decision comes at a cost. “These residents are going to be devastated,” said Hamilton. “We don’t believe in contracting out.”