Concern, disappointment & optimism:Health-care unions react to budget

Concern, disappointment and optimism: Health-care unions react to B.C. budget

Three of the province’s most high-profile health-care unions have mixed reactions to the B.C. budget, though they are generally supportive of many of the spending priorities.

The 2022 budget includes $3.2 billion over the fiscal plan to improve various health-care service, including $375 million for mental health and addiction supports. That investment is particularly encouraging to the paramedics union’s president, who says with so many of their calls involving mental health issues, that funding will have ripple effects in multiple areas of the health-care system.

“I’m encouraged by the supports for mental health, the homeless, and addiction services in the community that’ve been problematic for us (as paramedics) but also for society,” said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics and Dispatchers of B.C.

With $148 million dedicated to Emergency Health Services in the three-year plan geared toward “reducing emergency call wait and response times by adding more paramedics and dispatchers,” Clifford believes it’ll make a difference in reducing waits and addressing staffing shortages

“That’s a significant investment in the ambulance service,” he said. “We’re still seeing those shortages right now and hopefully this’ll be a catalyst to more supports, more full-time positions and quicker response to our patients.”

Meanwhile, the Hospital Employees’ Union is pleased to see a funding boost to hire and train more care aides and investments in child care. And though they’re supportive of the first year of the plan, a spokesperson says the funding increases for later years won’t keep up with demand on the system.

The cost of population growth and an aging population is about 4.5 per cent and we know that in years two and three, health-care spending is planned to grow by three per cent,” said spokesperson Mike Old. “We really support the premier in his efforts to get more money out of the feds to support our health-care system, but we also need a plan today for a sustainable health-care system going forward.”

The BC Nurses’ Union points to the many unknowns in terms of recruiting and retaining nurses, which is a significant issue across the country as trained professionals walk away from health-care jobs.

“There’s some strides being made but it’s more important to see details and what the health human resource plan is – lay it out, let us see where we can work together on the needs of nurses and the citizens of B.C.,” said BCNU president Aman Grewal. “What we would’ve liked to see is how they’re addressing violence in the workplace and mental health supports for nurses as well as strategies for short-staffing.”

Collective agreements for health-care workers, as well as the vast majority of employees across B.C.’s public sector, expire next month and discussions have begun between employers and the unions.