Yukon’s Community Nurses Need Resourses STAT!

Community Ncarmacks-health-centre-signursing Stations serve the medical needs of residents and visitors in some of the most isolated corners of the Yukon.  In the absence of multiple healthcare facilities, these clinics offer a dizzying array of services from first response to referral. When doctors visit from Whitehorse, the health centres get even busier. Community Nurses provide prenatal care, counselling, nutrition support, maternal health programming, diabetes education and more.

Year after year more programs are added to the responsibilities of Community nurses with no increase in staffing to reflect the added workload. Consequently, nurses are frustrated and burning out; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. They are relied upon heavily by local RCMP detachments and work hand in hand with social services and First Nations. In communities with volunteer EMS teams, the nurses must frequently step in to fill the gap when volunteers are unavailable and resources are few.

Nurses are at daily risk of workplace violence. In small communities they face dramatically increased incidences of physical & verbal abuse on the job. Respite is critical to ensure these workers stay healthy. Time away from the intense stress levels of a sometimes 24/7 job can make the difference between doing the job well and suffering a tremendous physical and emotional toll.

In June of this year PSAC’s Regional REVP and National Vice President travelled to several Yukon Community Health Centres with me. Their conversations with nurses in those centPelly Crossing Health Centre signres were sobering.

Despite improvements to Collective Agreement language in recent contracts, the employer continues to deny earned vacation leave to exhausted nurses, citing “operational requirements” and lack of staffing.  Staffing levels are a genuine concern. When a nurse works an on-call shift rotation lasting up to 10 days, the resultant lack of sleep and downtime can be nearly debilitating and there’s often no relief in sight.

Nurses tell us that vacant positions remain un-filled; medical centres that are intended to be staffed by 2 nurses at all times frequently rely on a single nurse with no back-up. A 7 day work week is the rule and not the exception and a knock on the nurse’s door at home in the middle of the night is all too common. No matter how far in advance leave is requested it is often denied simply because there is no-one available to cover. Nurses often seek coverage themselves, in fact, before applying for vacation.

These nurses fill a vital Meadow-with-mug CMYKrole in the communities they serve. Their level of personal sacrifice is testament to their degree of commitment and professionalism, but there must be relief in sight.  As YEU and YG enter bargaining this year there is hope that some of the chronic issues plaguing Community Nursing will be resolved.

Unfortunately there is only so much we can accomplish at the bargaining table. The issues Community Nurses face will only be resolved if the Yukon Government steps up, takes notice and shows the political will to do so. Nurses simply cannot continue to provide the level of care they so desperately want to, that all Yukoners expect and deserve, with ever dwindling numbers and little hope of meaningful change. YEU’s voice and the voice of the nurses will only go so far. If you live in a community or have ever had to rely on this amazing group of professionals I urge you to write to your MLA, the Premier, the Minister of Health and any other entity that will listen. It’s your health, your family’s health and that of the nurses at stake.  Ultimately it’s up to the politicians to ensure adequate healthcare resources are available to everyone…especially those providing the care.

In the meantime, we salute all nurses for the important and difficult work they do.

Steve Geick, YEU President
& Proud Community Nurse

Steve new camera

Straight Talk: The Independent Medical Examination or IME

confidential report

If you have an illness, injury or disability that impacts your work temporarily or long term, you may require an accommodation, need extended leave and/or disability benefits. Accessing any of these requires documentation, including proof of your medical circumstances. If your employer requests an Independent Medical Examination or IME, there are a few things to know.

What is an IME?
An IME is an examination by a medical professional who does not have a therapeutic relationship with the patient. Often, the IME doctor is a specialist chosen by the employer, and there is a contractual obligation to provide a report to the Employer on their findings.

When is an IME requested?
Your employer may request information to determine that your illness or disability is genuine and the impact it will have on your attendance. As a last resort and where the Collective Agreement allows, your employer may require you to attend an Independent Medical Examination (IME) at their expense.

Why can’t I just provide a Doctor’s note?
Doctor’s notes that say “Can’t attend work for medical reasons” or “off work for 30 days” or “patient needs new supervisor” are not well received. The Union often hears of employees denied access to their sick leave benefits because their medical notes are seen as insufficient to prove they are or were unable to perform their duties because of illness or injury. Similarly, notes that reflect numerous restrictions may compromise the employer’s ability to accommodate the employee.

When a medical certificate is requested, it should confirm a bona fide medical condition, provide information about the nature of the condition, explain your prognosis as it relates to the workplace and your return to work, and list any restrictions or limitations on your ability to perform your duties. Ideally, your medical practitioner will provide objective medical evidence about your limitations as they relate to your job so that your employer can respond with a reasonable accommodation or help you access disability benefits.

Do I HAVE to provide an IME if they ask?
You can refuse to attend an IME, but this may result in delays returning to work or denial of sick leave and other benefits.

When an employee is dealing with multiple or chronic medical conditions, a mental health issue, a substance use issue, workplace conflict or when there is a mix of culpable and non-culpable behavior, it can be more difficult to identify the medical restrictions without breaching the employee’s privacy.

If you are asked to provide consent to the employer to speak with your doctor, you should preview the questions the employer wants to ask and limit your written consent to those questions. Do not consent to open questions such as “please explain…”. 

ASK QUESTIONS! Who will get to see my information? How will my information be used?

You are not obliged to consent to release medical information (medical/family history, test results, diagnosis) to your employer. You have the right to alter any consent form to protect your privacy. There are benefits to an IME, but also some important things to keep in mind to protect your rights and privacy:

Pros:
•Access to a specialist more quickly
•Comprehensive medical exam and report for your treatment provider
•Clarity around your medical condition, treatment and restrictions

Things to think about:
•An IME can be invasive and should only be requested as a last resort, where other appropriate medical queries have not resulted in sufficient information to explain ongoing absence or develop an accommodation.
•Many Collective Agreements oblige the employer to follow the recommendations in the report, which may not be consistent with your preferences.
•You are entitled to your privacy. Your employer does not have the right to information about your diagnosis, test results or your medical history.
•The employer does not have the right to share your medical information without your expressed, specific consent.

When medical issues affect you at work please contact us. Let us help you navigate the system and protect your rights.