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New board of health members need to continue “strong and courageous voices”: nurse

Councillors Phil St.-Jean and Bill Roberts have been appointed to fill positions at the Hastings Prince Edward Public Health board left vacant after councillors John Hirsch and Kate MacNaughton resigned last month in protest of a “lack of transparency” and “negative impact on the community” during recent strike action.

Last week, two three-year deals were reached between the Hastings Prince Edward Public Health board and Local 31 of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) and Canadian Union of Public (CUPE) Local 3314. The nurses had been on strike for six weeks and CUPE, less than two weeks. The three-year contracts negotiated with both unions are retro-active to Jan. 1, 2023. The contracts include wage increases of three per cent in the first year, and 2.5 per cent in each subsequent year. Union members are also to receive some enhanced benefits.

HPEPH offices in Picton, Quinte West and Bancroft were closed and the Belleville office was closed except for select services for pickup or by appointment only.

Long-time public health nurse Jennifer Ronan thanked the councillors at Tuesday night’s meeting, hoped they would reconsider going back to the positions, and pointed out that continued strong and courageous voices are needed given cutbacks to public health and impending mergers.

“When I started at Public Health over 20 years ago we had an office here on King Street that was fully staffed,” she recalled. “There was a knowledgeable secretary that would answer questions face-to-face and there were staff on hand to answer questions on the spot.

“As you are aware today, our office is one room down at the Prince Edward Family Health Team office. There’s no front-facing public health staff,” said Ronan, adding people are directed to a kiosk where they call Belleville for support, often getting directed to voicemail.

“Going forward in the next few years health units will be merging to create larger organizations. Small communities like Prince Edward County will need strong voices to maintain their public health services or to advocate for better access for their tax dollars.”

Voices like those from Hirsch and MacNaughton, she said, are important to take up a stand even when it isn’t always the easiest choice… and continue to fight for public health.

“As one of those public health nurses who was on strike for six long, and very hot weeks, I want to thank you personally for your pivotal role in our strike timeline,” Ronan said. “You definitely fired up the nurses,” Ronan said to Hirsch and MacNaughton. “We gained strength and determination from your actions. You’re both are definitely heroes to me. I thank you for hearing us.”

Hirsch told Ronan the nurses “were the courageous ones.

“You folks lost six weeks of pay to make a big, big point,” he said, adding she made another important point that the service levels have declined over the years.

While Hirsch said he “can’t go back” to the board he was sure their successors would do a great job.”

He and MacNaughton were nominated to return to the positions but both respectfully declined.


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