An employee had a urine sample taken from a vehicle; The union calls the work environment “absolute madness”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited from a previous version to clarify the information provided regarding a hero bonus for employees.
Angry patients, a lack of support, and a denied leave request prompted a LifeLabs employee to quit a job she once loved.
âThe worst day for me personally was, one day, I was at the door. There was a line around the building, âsaid Silvia Wachter, a former LifeLabs employee in Orillia. âI was dealing with walk-in patients and patients with an appointment. A man got in his car literally where I was standing and started yelling at me from the window.
âI told him that I was taking care of patients and that I had to park his car and stand in line. He was leaving a urine sample. He took the urine sample and said, “I don’t,” and threw it at me and then left, “Wachter added.
According to OPSEU 389, the union that represents LifeLabs employees in Simcoe County, Wachter’s story is one of many stories their members have shared with them about customer abuse, mismanagement and the frustration that has resulted in staff shortages, long queues and the outright closure of many locations in the region. through the pandemic.
Wachter worked at LifeLabs as a part-time Patient Service Technician at their O’Brien Street location in Orillia.
âWe had another person come in for a test. It was a test that had to be sent to the hospital and could not be done that day. He started hitting the windows, âshe said, noting that he had not broken the window.
“People called us incompetent, they called us every name in the book they could think of,” she said.
After seven and a half years of employment and a denied leave request, Wachter said she made the difficult decision last month to quit after more than a year of verbal abuse suffered by patients and exhaustion of the patient. Mental Health.
âThings started to go a bit awry before the pandemic,â Wachter said. âThings got more commercial. The turnover has started.
At the onset of the pandemic, Wachter said there had been a significant change in management style at all of the local LifeLabs sites. Full-time employees were put on leave and managers began working remotely off-site. She said this left the sites short-staffed and without in-person management support.
âI started to have the impression that they no longer supported us. There was no one to talk to when a patient got angry. They didn’t check with us to see how we were doing, âshe said.
Wachter said some locations would close and the remaining staff would all have moved to singular locations, that’s when the extended queues started.
As the pandemic progressed, there were many cases of angry patients.
âThe queues were running around the buildings. We screened people at the door. People would get angry because it was cold and they would stay there for an hour or more before they even got to the door, âshe said. “So besides being short-staffed and overworked, we started dealing with people who were really angry every minute of the day.”
Wachter said she hasn’t seen a supervisor or manager in person for months.
Amid the pandemic, Wachter said LifeLabs released a âhero bonus,â in which staff received a temporary pay rise.
Wachter said the problem was that only full-time employees were eligible for the full amount; full-time employees, for the most part, have been laid off up to this point. Part-time and casual workers who had worked through the most difficult days of the pandemic were only eligible for the bonus on a sliding scale that was about half.
âIt was a big kick in the face for a lot of people. It didn’t go well, âWachter said.
Wachter said that over time the situation began to take a toll on his own sanity. She noted that she had difficulty sleeping and eating, and began to suffer from panic attacks.
She said she contacted her manager to request unpaid leave, but her request was denied. She made the decision to quit.
âI didn’t have the courage to fight another battle,â she said. âI cried all the time. My doctor told me that I could try medication … to numb myself and cope with what was going on at work. … I felt completely misunderstood.
Wachter tried to hold back tears when she spoke of the calling she once loved.
âWhen I started doing this job, I loved it. I felt like I was making a difference, âshe said. âThe satisfaction I got from this job – it’s over. “
Emily Smith worked at the LifeLabs Wasaga Beach site from 2020. She is trained as a Personal Support Worker and is also qualified to draw blood. She resigned in May.
âIt was a very stressful work environment. There was no management on the site. It was hard to get inâ¦ without a structure on how to do your job, âSmith said.
âA lot of patients would be really angry with the wait. Sometimes there was a two to three hour wait, âshe said.
Smith recounted an incident she had with a patient who refused to wear a mask.
âI was even newer at the time, so I needed to ask (colleagues) the protocol for people entering without a mask. When I asked him to wait outside and told him that I would be back right away, he started to get very angry, raise his voice and come over to me, âSmith said. “There were a lot of patients who made negative comments about the wait and the way it was going.”
Smith has managed to get back on his feet and now works as a health worker in a nursing home.
âI love my job now,â Smith said. âI would still love to take blood samples because that’s why I went to school, but I wasn’t happy there. I needed a change and I needed to get out of Wasaga Beach.
OPSEU 389 and LifeLabs respond
RenÃ©e Aiken Kearsley, President of OPSEU 389 – the union which represents approximately 105 LifeLabs employees in Simcoe County – said the experiences described by these two employees are not unique.
âSince the pandemic, we’ve been in a staff shortage crisis,â Kearsley said. âA year ago, we were health heroes. Now we are supposed to continue.
Kearsley said OPSEU worked with LifeLabs to address the understaffing as it turned into a health and safety issue. She estimates that about 10 percent of the total LifeLabs workforce across the county have quit outright due to various issues.
âThere is no end in sight. We work short-staffed, and then the people who work get burned out. It’s a vicious cycle, âshe said. âThe employer really hasn’t done much to support us. Help is not there.
Kearsley said employees are verbally and in some cases physically abused by patients on a daily basis. She said the union asked LifeLabs to hire security guards, but that request was denied.
â(We’re) yelled at, insulted, pushed, assaulted, we’re told we’re useless,â Kearsley said. âAt our location in Wasaga Beach, the door was damaged because a member was trying to close it and a patient fought so hard that the handle came loose from the door.
âThe staff skip their lunches, their breaks and sacrifice their health. This is absolute madness, âshe said.
Kearsley said the union made several attempts to speak to LifeLabs management about the staff situation. She estimates that approximately 20 grievances have been filed by the union representing Simcoe County employees in the past few months.
âThe union has been fighting them for a long time. We have filed grievances and will continue to file grievances until they are held accountable. It is appalling what is happening to healthcare workers, âshe said.
Kearsley also notes a change in the way LifeLabs asks employees to deal with patients. She said LifeLabs had asked staff to start naming patients as clients and was encouraging “upselling” of tests that may not be covered by OHIP.
âTheir solution for pretty much everything is to up-sell. That’s what they’re trying to do now. As healthcare workers, it turns us off that they want to call our patient clients because that’s not how we see them, âKearsley said.
LifeLabs declined an interview request from Village Media and sent a statement instead.
âFrontline healthcare organizations across the province, including community labs, have experienced staffing issues in recent months,â LifeLabs spokesperson Imran Amin said in an email to Village Media.
âThis was caused by an acute shortage of laboratory workers, exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic which has forced many employees to reduce their hours. As such, we have experienced temporary site closures, including in Simcoe County, âhe wrote.
âWe are doing what we can to avoid these closures such as opening at limited hours during the day. However, when we cannot adapt to this, we are forced to redeploy our staff to nearby LifeLabs sites. “
Amin concluded the email statement by noting that LifeLabs is hiring for a number of lab roles across the county, encouraging anyone interested to apply through their website.
âWe have a long-standing relationship with our union partners and continue to resolve any concerns or inquiries with local union representation through existing relationships and forums,â he said. âWe are incredibly proud of the important role our dedicated frontline healthcare workers have played in supporting communities. “