Open Letter From Owen Sound Family Doctors

Disclaimer:  The following letter was written by the twenty-two family physicians in Owen Sound, who were recently the subject of a major labour dispute.  The doctors feel that there were many aspects of the dispute that were incorrectly reported in the media, and have asked me to publish their letter on my site so they can present their view.  Opinions are theirs.

The doctors of the Owen Sound Family Health Organization (FHO) feel they have an obligation to provide an update to the community with regard to the recent ratification of an agreement with OPSEU local 276.

After our employees decide to strike in May, we discovered that many of the practices we had been using to support the provision of patient care were inefficient and frustrating for physicians and patients.  We advised OPSEU of this in July.

Among the many improvements we made are better management of patient records, phones, web bookings and communications with patients.  Patient Kiosks have been established that many people use on presentation for an appointment.  Some redundant and inefficient activities during patient interaction were identified.  All of this was done while the workers were on strike.

OPSEU was advised of our plan to reorganize and institute two positions that we felt would better meet our needs.  We developed a position called a Patient Flow Co-Ordinator to help patients navigate our clinic.  We plan to hire Medical Office Assistants who ARE College certified to meet our other needs.  OPSEU ultimately agreed with our plan to move forward with these hires.  We’ve also hired 2 Clinic Managers.

Out of respect for the work done in the past, we offered the employees that remained a severance package (through OPSEU) that would provide financial support as they seek employment better suited to their skill sets.

OPSEU has produced much information during the negotiations, strike and ratification process.  Their details do not fit our understanding of what has happened.

We categorically deny any allegation of harassment, bullying or threats by the employers or its representatives, as OPSEU alleged (without foundation).  We feel that these allegations were advanced by the union and its supporters against physicians, patients and replacement workers in failing attempts to generate support for the strike.  This was horrifying and exceeded anything we would have expected in a workplace dispute.

One person who attended the health centre alleged that because she did not roll down her window to speak to strikers, her car was subject to $4,150 in damages.  She provided the picture below (complete with accessible parking permit in her dashboard).

BrokenWindshieldCut

Another incident involved a veteran who was attending the health centre and stated he was subject to abuse at the picket line.  He has provided a letter, but is too traumatized to allow his name to be printed.  There were many other incidents.

OPSEU has attempted to promote misinformation during the labour dispute.  It even filed a complaint of unfair labour practice with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.  We defended the complaint and it was ultimately withdrawn by OPSEU.  It had no merit.  Our response is attached.

OPSEU’s President also filed official complaints about 3 physicians with the CPSO (our licensing body) even though he never had any direct contact with those physicians.  We feel these complaints were used in attempts to intimidate the physicians.  In the end, we stood up for health care and the complaints were withdrawn.  They were without merit.

OPSEU’s President misinforms when he states that “public money” was used to hire legal support and security.  Physicians are paid for the services they provide.  Physicians then hire staff to support the provision of patient care as well as cover usual business costs (rent, utilities, equipment, etc).  When faced with complex legal and human resource management issues like this, we had to get appropriate legal support.  Given OPSEU’s tactics, security was essential to try to protect our patients.

Additionally, OPSEU did target the 3 physicians who were on the negotiation team as being “owners” of the organization.  This is untrue.  We are a group of 22 physicians who operate in a FHO and have formed a business partnership to manage our expenses.  We rent our premises and essentially own nothing.

Some of our former employees did not support the actions of the union and did end their employment with us citing a lack of support for the union.  Almost 45% resigned during the strike.  We regret that many good employees have had their lives disrupted in this way, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do within this system to rectify that.  Once employees are unionized they have to support their union or are threatened with major financial fines.

We feel that we have been transparent, respectful and honest during this process.  We have received overwhelming support from our patients and public and are enormously grateful for that.  Letters to the editor like this one have resonated with the community.  We hope we can move forward as a group and support each other to provide better, more efficient care.

Yours truly,

The Doctors of the Owen Sound Family Health Organization

 

 

Author: justanoldcountrydoctor

Practicing rural family medicine since 1992. I still have active privileges at the Collingwood Hospital. Currently President-Elect of the Ontario Medical Association.

12 thoughts on “Open Letter From Owen Sound Family Doctors”

  1. I just stumbled across this letter & I am so glad I did. In the beginning I supported the strikers but that changed when I was denied access not only to Clinic but to Pharmacy. People I knew & trusted turned not only on me but so many other patients.
    When I finally made it thru the gauntlet to see my Doctor we had a heart to heart. I could not believe the treatment all you Doctors were receiving. I worked in Nursing for 7 years (back in the 80’s; caveman era) & we NEVER behaved in such a cruel & rude fashion.
    I am relieved the strike is over. And at this point I, as a patient am just glad we can all move forward. And the Doctors of FHO have my respect & loyalty.
    Sincerely, Mrs. Sherri-Ellen T-D.

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    1. I was trained in the 70’s pre caveman era I too deplore cruel and rude behaviour I was on that picket line and I was not once cruel or rude to anyone. I was shocked by the behaviour of those who would not consider speaking to us or taking a leaflet or in any way respecting our right to protest. People actually drove into and over one young girls foot as she tried to get out of the way. The whole issue was in the hands of the OSFHT they could have stopped it at any time by meeting with us. We did not like holding up people but nobody was denied access to appointments or into the building only held for less time than some traffic lights. We held the physicians,and office staff and scab workers longer as they were our issues. I apologize if you were treated unfairly

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Why were shoked by people who did not support you by listening? You may have the right to protest, but not the right to force people to agree with you.
        Your rights end up where the rights of others start.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this kind of one side view , question if these 22 doctors where looking after the needs of there imployes , people that they hired as the most Qualified to do the job . Why then did they organize and bring in a union?

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  3. In Thunder Bay we also had a medical clinic strike. They too replaced there tax paying employees with kisois. I would like to remind these doctors they are paid with tax dollars and machines don’t pay taxes. They will be first to complain when there is no increases for them.

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  4. This letter above is only one side of the story. The ex staff have another side to tell. The truth may be somewhere in the middle . People are complaining that they do not like the new system and others say they do. The thing is,not everyone finds this sweet, we did nothing wrong letter totally believable. I have decided to tell a bit of our story. I apologize for the length in advance but it is a long story.

    The owners asked for the escalation on the picket line by ignoring the staff on the line and leaving us out there for so long. If they planned to let us all go they should have said so before July and certainly before August/September when we had no choice but to stop cars and make things miserable for everyone. I am sincerely sorry.
    The picketers were originally a small group of kind caring staff that loved their work, patients and yes the physicians we worked for. Things changed over the 7 years we were in the new building. We were no longer asked our opinions or ideas we began to be dictated to and our concerns fell on deaf, seemingly uncaring ears. We brought in the union ,feeling perhaps we might have a voice through them. It is unfortunate that this did not happen and the atmosphere continued to deteriorate. Over the next while we began to have staff leave some left because they were no longer happy , some left because they were bullied, some were asked to leave. Suffice it to say life for a few years was miserable. (before the strike began over 70 staff had left since the initial move to the new building) Imagine what it was like to see people you had grown to love and care about leave crying almost weekly for one reason or another.
    The first contract did not have a pay grid and we were told at the negotiations for that contract verbally that nothing would change and it was unfortunate that the union believed this to be true. The verbal agreements did not make it to the new contract so there was never going to be any raises ever. It was felt that we had to make a stand at this negotiation for a pay grid and an inflationary raise . Stand our ground we did, from May to September getting nowhere . They did come back to the table and offered 1% for each year of a 3 year contract but still no grid and that did not bring the inflation rate to where it should have been as we were already 4 years without any raise. Some staff after 4 years still at their probationary wage so we turned this offer down. The next negotiation that I was made aware of was in July when they announced that the nurses would not be returning and they were starting fresh with other staff that would be more suitable for their needs offering nothing more than a severance package at the end of the negotiation someone asked what about the clerical staff and that was when they said oh yes them too. That stopped cold the negotiation and we returned to the picket line. We were quite demoralized by this news and many then quit to find other jobs.
    Our numbers were quite low and our spirits too, that is when OPSEU decided we needed help so they asked on our behalf to have other members from Owen Sound and across the province to join us to help. They wanted our line strong and asked us to begin to hold people up for one minite giving them a flyer and an opportunity to ask questions. Many many people had no issues and simply did what we expected . Telling us they supported us and went on their way peacefully. Others had their backs up and refused to stop or even talk to us they actually started hitting us with their cars. I could not believe that people could be so nasty. This was very shocking to me.
    We eventually with all the upheaval we were finally being heard and the few of us left got an enhanced exit package and salary for Sept and a month of benefits to go away.
    This is not what we wanted and for those of you upset that you no longer have nurses or your favorite receptionist we are sorry but ….
    Thank you to all of our supporters in the public sector, the OPSEU members who came to help, the Muffin Man, the reporters that reported truthfully ( Anne and David) . The people that brought baking, Tim bits,coffee food and drinks and supported our BBQ’s, Those who came to ask us what was going on and offered help and picked up a sign and walked with us and countless kind donations of coffee money. We Thank You ALL so very very much.
    Kiff Harvey former RN at the OSFHT

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  5. I’m shocked to read in these comments that picketers seemed to think people had an OBLIGATION to stop and talk with them. You had “no choice but to stop cars and make things miserable”?? B***S***. Nobody on that picket line EVER had ANY right to impede people from entering the clinic. Full stop. End of discussion. Your right to strike/protest does not include a right to assault others.

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    1. were you assaulted Roger? Did you file charges? Picket lines are quite legal No laws were broken. It is not legal to use a vehicle as a weapon. People can not run over pedestrians with cars or trucks. That is assault and charges I believe have been laid.

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  6. The strike of the FHO was not about the doctors or even their patients. It was always about respect for their employees, starting with a respectable wage.

    Most of the Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) at the FHO were being paid a buck or two over the living wage for Bruce Grey (which is $21.01 according the United Way). I found an ad for RPNs on http://www.ca.indeed.com, placed by a doctor with a family health team in Orillia. The wage scale advertised is from $29.05 to $32.72.

    That’s nearly $7 over what RPNs at the FHO were getting for doing the same work in the same sort of workplace. As for clerical and custodial staff, the FHO paid them well under the living wage, closer to the minimum wage which remains a poverty wage.

    Consider what else workers at the FHO had to put up with …
    • A toxic workplace where nearly all those who took part in a survey reported feeling very stressed as a result of harassment. Prior to the strike the turn-over rate of staff was high – 70 in four years.
    • You could see that toxicity playing out on the strike line. As he entered the parking lot, one doctor swore at his receptionist and threw trash from his truck’s cab at her. I saw another doctor drive up to the line and bump the Local’s President.
    • The workers at the FHO had gone for 4 years without a pay increase. (You can see why they sought the help of a union.) The first offer from the FHO was for 1% in each of 3 years. That doesn’t even cover the increase in the cost of living in Ontario (which is a touch over 2%). Of course the staff turned it down. It was an insult.
    • They had to watch as the FHO hired ‘replacement workers’ to do their jobs. That prolonged the strike into the bitter struggle it became.
    • The second offer the FHO made to their striking workers (in August, not July) was to lay off half of their nurses so they could hire non-professionals for less. That is the very definition of bad faith bargaining.
    • I have seen picketers at the Medical Centre bumped or hit by people impatient with the rules of the picket line. Three required emergency treatment. Nevertheless, by far most of the interactions between the public and the picketers were polite. I saw many of those encounters first hand. But if you drive into a line of people (any line of people) you’re not likely to get a hug.

    Doctors should know that paying poverty wages is bad for the health. Wilkinson and Pickett in the UK and Raphael in Canada have done the research that establishes a clear link between poverty incomes, bad diets, poor housing and ill health. Not paying a living wage increases health care and welfare costs.

    At least one doctor knows this and is doing something about it. Dr Andrew Pinto, a physician with family health team at St Michael’s Hospital, prescribes money for his patients. He has hired full time staff to make sure his patients are getting the financial help they need and are entitled to. His office helps people with applications to Ontario Works, Workers Comp, ODSP – anything to make sure they can afford their prescriptions and eat better food.

    Unfortunately, his work is not enough to keep Canada out of the lower end of working age poverty. The Conference Board of Canada gives Canada a ‘C’ for dealing with income inequality – we do only a little better than the USA. And the Board gives us a D for our levels of working-age poverty – only Japan and the US have higher rates than we do.

    If more doctors and their professional associations would make the link between poverty incomes and health outcomes, they would surely become a persuasive voice for all employers to pay their employees a wage they can live on – and they would help cut costs and wait times for health care.

    David McLaren

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What bother’s me the most is the fact that some of these people would spend more time waiting in a drive thru for their morning coffee than the would a picket line. I believe a history lesson is in need about unions and freedoms here, please look at what your fore father’s and mother’s have done through the years for all of us to have what we do have.(Pretty Amazing if you ask me) Just a couple of minutes of your time and understanding would have made the difference. These Ladies on the line were asking for respect and a little dignity at the end of the day, both being treated with respect and the ability to pay their bills. They weren’t asking for a pool in their backyards.
    Also keep in mind that the OMA (Ontario Medical Association)/UNION, are asking the government for a 15% increase over the next 3 years for your medical appointments.
    I get that yes they worked hard for that but so did those ladies that work with them.
    Please don’t tell me that they need to go back to school to get an education!!!!!! Bull, most of them are very educated, just ask them.
    So they are asking for more than 1%, LMAO, wow how is this so bad when the Dr’s. are asking for 15%, so 5% per year?
    Food for thoughts. Take care everyone.

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