October 8, 2010
Cabinet ministers are busy people
(or so we are told). Every day they find themselves making important
decisions, meeting with stakeholders and steering the ship of their
Then there’s the irritating side
of their job: taking questions from Opposition members in the
Earlier this month NDP MPP Gilles
Bisson (Timmins-James Bay) rose in the legislature and asked the
Minister of Health, Deb Matthews, about the potential closure of the
provincial medical laboratory in Timmins. Indeed, across the
province there is considerable worry among health professionals that
the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (OAHPP) is
looking to reduce the number of public health labs.
This was, in part, the health
minister’s reply to Bisson:
“The people I talk to,
when they think of health care, they think of our front-line
workers, they think of our doctors, our nurses, our personal
support workers; they think of people who actually provide
That the minister didn’t give a
straight answer to Bisson’s question is par for the course. That she
believes that doctors and nurses are the only front-line workers in
our health care system is inexcusable. We were left slack-jawed by
her apparent ignorance of who actually works in the system over
which she is responsible.
Memo to Deb Matthews: visit a
medical lab today and meet those who represent the back bone of our
health care delivery system.
Were she to visit one of the
province’s hospital labs, she would learn, for example, that lab
technologists are front-line workers who are essential partners in
the diagnosis process. More than 80 per cent of all medical
diagnosis rely on a lab test.
If she were to visit one of the
public health labs we fear will close, she would discover the key
role they play in protecting the lives and health of our
While the health minister
conveniently overlooks the vital role played by lab technologists,
their role – and the role played by dozens of other health
professional occupations – isn’t lost on OPSEU.
A case in point is the upcoming
union representation vote at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. In
the bargaining unit descriptions the technologist classification was
missing for lab or diagnostic imaging. When OPSEU raised this issue
with management we were told that Grand River hospital refers to
these positions as “registered technicians.”
Both technicians and
technologists have important roles in a hospital. But there is
distinct difference in the separate work performed by each group,
both in educational requirements and the fact that technologists are
regulated through a College.
Chalk it up to education. When
key decision-makers, like health ministers or hospital
administrators, refuse to learn about the important work their
employees perform, then it’s left to workers and their union to fill
On this count I would be
personally delighted to take Deb Matthews on tour of a medical lab
in a hospital or one of the province’s public health labs.