Workers at rural hospitals could be on strike as early as Jan. 11. If that happens, the Cumberland Health Authority is thinking of a possible closure of ERs throughout the county except at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre. Darrell Cole - Amherst Daily News
AMHERST - Closing rural emergency departments is just one of the possibilities being considered by the Cumberland Health Authority as it plans for a possible strike by hospital workers in early January.
Officials with the CHA are busy making contingency plans for the eventuality that its unionized hospital workers could hit the picket line as early as Jan. 11.
"In Cumberland County that number represents about 300 people so it could have a huge impact," authority spokesperson Ann Keddy said. "We're continuing to assess the impact and are preparing a plan if it happens all the while hoping that something will happen to prevent it from happening."
CUPE, the union representing hospital workers in areas of the province outside Metro Halifax, is meeting with health authorities to work out how to maintain emergency health services in the event of a strike. Keddy said preliminary meetings have been held in Cumberland County and that additional meetings are expected.
In Cumberland, the strike would impact many services throughout the district including laboratory, diagnostic imaging, pharmacy, physio and occupational therapy, dietary, clerical, environmental services, information services, materials management, financial services and some mental health services.
"We'll have about 50 people trying to do the work of about 300 so it would be difficult to maintain service," Keddy said.
Because of the staffing shortage associated with a work stoppage, Keddy said emergency rooms in Pugwash, Parrsboro, Springhill and Advocate will likely be closed. The ER at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre would be kept open.
Also, all non-emergency services would be suspended during the strike including surgeries.
Medical staff, including nurses, would not be affected by a strike. She said management and other non-unionized workers would continue working, although Keddy said there's only so much they can do.
Last weekend, 85 per cent of CUPE members voted in favour of a strike to back contract demands for wage parity with their counterparts in Halifax. The province is only offering a one per cent increase.
The union has already said it would not strike during the H1N1 outbreak, but with the number of cases dwindling and assessment and vaccination clinics shutting down a strike is becoming more of a possibility.