Cutting bedside snacks panned by critics

Bonnie Belec
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NDP, union say Eastern Health only hurting patients

The elimination of providing crackers and cups of tea to hospital patients in St. John’s is only crumbs in terms of the money it saves, says the leader of the NDP.

Vickie Kaminski

“What the management of Eastern Health has to do is look at why they are spending millions of dollars on overtime rather than how to save $97,000 — that is only making life a bit more difficult for patients,” Lorraine Michael told The Telegram Wednesday.

“What they need to deal with is what is causing the overtime. And what is causing all of the overtime, in my opinion, is they do not have enough people, a full complement of staff. This is the analysis that needs to be done, not trying to save small pockets of money that means more difficult times for patients,” she said.

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According to auditor general Terry Paddon’s annual report, released last Thursday, Eastern Health spent at least $3.6 million in overpayments to employees. He also found questionable practices regarding overtime, sick leave and general financial operations.

In response, Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski told The Telegram  last week that in the case of overtime, running a health-care operation poses unique challenges.

She said the overtime costs may seem large, but when the authority has to cover after-hours calls and have specialists available, there’s a cost associated with that.

People have told The Telegram they’ve discovered during recent visits with loved ones hospitalized at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital that evening snacks are no longer provided and when patients have asked, they have been told the service has been discontinued.

Patients receive supper at around 5 p.m. and breakfast at around 8 a.m., with nothing in between.

When contacted about the issue Wednesday, Eastern Health said evening snacks were eliminated at both hospitals in October 2013, which is consistent with the practices of other facilities under its authority as well as  facilities across the country.

“The elimination of evening snacks to patient bedsides at the Health Sciences Centre and the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital was identified as an operational improvement initiative to save $97,000 and reduce 1.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees through attrition,” said the emailed statement.

FTE is a measure used to count hours of work equivalent to a full-time position.

The health authority’s statement said evening snacks will continue to be provided for patients who are on special or therapeutic diets who have been prescribed evening snacks by their clinical dieticians.

“We also recognize that some patients may be hungry outside of regular meal hours. As such, we will continue to stock snacks, including juice, milk, tea, coffee, bread and crackers on the units for patients who request it,” said the statement.

Eastern Health said in an email to The Telegram later Wednesday it will remind staff that snacks can be made available when people ask and if patients have had a different experience, the health authority offered an apology.

 During a news conference on May 29, 2012, Eastern Health announced the initiatives it would take to improve operations in order to balance the budget. Part of that is the elimination of 550 full-time equivalent positions to save about $43 million.

The elimination of evening snacks was another initiative.

“What upsets me is for the sake of $97,000, Eastern Health management seems to be more concerned about operational improvement than about something that is good for the patient,” said Michael.

 “I’m really shocked at this, that the management of Eastern Health would be satisfied to do this,  calling it an improvement of operations. The patient has to be at the centre of what is an improvement and this is not an improvement for the good of the patient.”

As Eastern Health has previously stated, as part of the initiatives no permanent employee would be laid off and the reduction of the FTEs would occur through attrition.

“If an employee’s permanent position has been impacted by any initiative, the employee would have been redeployed to another program or service area within Eastern Health,” says the authority’s emailed statement.

 Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) confirmed that her members provided night snacks to patients, but their hours weren’t reduced when the service was cancelled.

“The people who really are directly affected and suffering are the patients,” Furlong told The Telegram Wednesday.

That would be on two fronts, she said. First, by not being able to have a snack, either because they aren’t mobile or have no family around; and second, because the task is downloaded onto nurses if snacks are requested or ordered.

 “How unreasonable is that, really? And there’s lots of people who won’t ask for one if nothing is brought to them. And a lot of people in hospital are not able to get up and go to the kitchen and put on the kettle. It really is nickle and diming people,” she said.



Organizations: The Telegram, Health Sciences Centre, Mercy Hospital Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees

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Recent comments

  • Ashley
    February 02, 2014 - 00:39

    Vicki should be made to stay in hospital for a month with the disgusting food! The snacks were the only thing worth eating!

  • Gerald
    January 31, 2014 - 07:59

    The amount that is saved is trivial compared to the service that is cut. A cup of tea or coffee and a few biscuits can be just what's needed to perk up a patient. Perhaps this trivial amount could be fund-raised or donated by an entity.

  • Susan
    January 30, 2014 - 22:33

    Always ate the snacks, but not the meals.

  • Reality
    January 30, 2014 - 12:20

    I heard an interview with Eastern Health and any patient can still get a snack, all the have to do is ask. This has been going on in all the other hospitals for years and not one complaint has been received since this was changed back in October. This is a story about nothing except political opportunism.

    • gord
      January 30, 2014 - 23:13

      Maybe so as you suggest but patients deserve the offer as many will not ask for many reasons. This is so petty, some day you may find out, I've been there and very thankful of the staff for offering a lunch. It doesn't take much to help with the healing! As a taxpayer I don't mind paying for that service to others.

  • Death by Healthcare
    January 30, 2014 - 12:19

    Privatize it. We won't pay more than we pay now in taxes for this "free" system, and God knows the services can't get any worse. We Newfoundlanders talk about this "free" system like it is something to be proud of. It is terrible service in dirty facilities by cranky staff. And so someone remind me why privatization and competition would be so awful?

  • Riverlady
    January 30, 2014 - 12:17

    Only Neanderthals in our Government's negotiating team would agree to pay union employees for "not being sick"...!! Steadywaters below is telling us that she/he will be paid eight months salary for "not being sick"...if she/he leaves Eastern Health tomorrow...? anybody home...? Taking sick day vacations is unheard of in privately owned companies. It's all about Union Power and the weakness of our Government negotiators at the table.. Its time to privatize our health system as no one in Government management cares about spending Government money. Except for eliminating tea and crackers for 90 year-old Seniors of coarse..!! Sad and unbelievable...!!!

    • steadywaters
      January 30, 2014 - 13:24

      Riverlady that is not sick leave that is a buildup of holidays due to the inability to get any holidays. Sorry if that was confusing to you. Sick leave is another thing altogether and it is out of control currently. Annual leave is the holidays that are issued by the employer,it was achieved by negotiation in lue of higher wages.

  • juanita
    January 30, 2014 - 12:05

    the people that makes the decisions to save money for the Eastern Health by not giving the patients a snack at bedtime i think its about time they found another line of work. as far as i'am concerned thats abuse of sick people.

  • jp
    January 30, 2014 - 11:20

    I cannot believe what I read , not a snack allowed to the sick patients before they sleep, I am shocked, I only hope I do not have to go to the hospital, what a cruel thing to do.

  • aubrey lynch
    January 30, 2014 - 11:16

    i think its disgraceful to treat our patients like this..instead of improving services we are down-grading services..then to put all the pressure on our patients>our loved ones is beyond me..time for government and eastern health to buck up

  • Get Rid of Her Now Premier Marshall
    January 30, 2014 - 11:12

    The Conservatives are starting to listen to the public to try and save their own skins by reviewing Bill 29. Well, let's look at the healthcare debacles under this CEO. Throw her out.

  • Curious
    January 30, 2014 - 11:11

    Just wondering who is going to provide these snacks for the patients?? I'm assuming the over worked nurses who have a full work load already... Not to mention the various "non nursing duties" they are responsible for after hours aka 4 pm when the majority of the other health care workers go home for the day.

  • Gerry Martin
    January 30, 2014 - 10:54

    What we really need is a new CEO. We have been paying this lady $300k a year and all she has come up with is a few cookies.

  • Ashamed
    January 30, 2014 - 10:47

    I find this article quite disturbing and I'm ashamed of how Eastern Health is treating our most vulnerable people. Most of our elderly people would never "Ask" for a snack but we all know it's tradition for them to have their 'cup of tea and bisquit' before bed. Perhaps no impact for those who have family regularly bringing in food but what happens to the poor soul who lays in that bed without visitors? Please have some compassion and find other ways to save money without negatively impacting our ill.

    January 30, 2014 - 09:03

    When are Eastern Health going to treat their patients as human beings. It is probably time for this CEO to go.

  • steadywaters
    January 30, 2014 - 08:51

    Eastern Health is now a business not a health care provider. Money waste is abounding within the walls of that huge monster we call Eastern Health. The managers that they have no longer manage the workforce, they are too busy doing paperwork and other clerk related duties.Certain management are responsible for waste due to arbritration hearings that they will lose and this expense is immense.For the most part these workplace issues could be resolved at initial discussion time, they are for the most part clear cut violations of current collective agreements.There is also too much overtime due to sick leave or so they say, yet there are many within the system carrying more annual leave then they are allowed to and are unable to avail of it due to surmised staff shortages. What happens in five to seven years when these employees will be retiring and all this excess annual leave has to be paid out,in my own case if current trends continue my employer will owe me my severance plus another eight months in pay for accrued benefits,many workers in same boat, benefits that may have been earned at lower wage value but paid out at current rate of pay.There are many nurses working in clerk positions getting nurse wages.I would love for Padden to audit individual institutions both long term and acute instead of the whole outfit. Smaller scale audits prevent funds from being shuffled or hidden like sometimes happens when there is alot to audit,more places to hide.Eastern Health has policy development workers earning excellent wages but their titles are a misnomer,they do not develope they copy from others all across North America,picking and choosing.There is so much wrong with the system. George never got four hundred G, or a house or a vehicle and got the work done and I might add what appears to have been better. George just got caught up in a lab fiasco. Healthcare facilities are getting dirtier all the time, why when one goes to hospital now and returns home without an infection it is akin to winning the lottery. Get the numbers of hospital acquired infections over the past fifteen years and their exponental expansion. there is so much to say about our healthcare. We strive to be like a have not province(Ont) in delivering our services. We always follow, we followed Ont with education and now Ont is reverting back to a denominational system again where we were before we destroyed that too. Do not follow Ont's lead in healthcare.Please take a look at the entire system but in smaller sections and you will indeed be surprised by the results

    • gord
      January 30, 2014 - 23:31

      Not sure about east but in GF central the hospital is like the mall, anyone and everyone can walk through any time without being stopped, checked or questioned. Security, where? I'm not sure but I think the ambulance drivers double as security some how. It's an open infected outdated cramp quartered facility with absolutely no visible authority to indicate a secure & safe premises. The gov't are spending on additions but it like putting new flooring over a rotten floor.

    • I agree
      February 01, 2014 - 07:18

      So much of what this person says is true. I have spent a lot of time in hospitals being there for sick relatives in several different provinces in the last few years and what I saw in the hospitals in Nfld was frightening. Heavy on specialists and allied health care workers, none of them coordinating or cooperating, very cranky nurses, poor attention to hygeine and basic cleanliness, and meals most people refused to eat. I saw so many frightening things, safety issues and infection control issues that I was afraid to leave my loved one there alone. There are no longer head nurses so there is no one that is keeping track of what is going on or setting and holding any kind of standard for the staff. The unit coordinators or managers are in offices behind closed doors and are completely out of touch with what is going on with patients. Some of the cleaning staff are lazy and spend a good part of their days chatting in the hallways. I saw the same dirty garbage in the same elevator for two weeks--not one staff member picked it up. I saw dirty used diapers left on the floor or on a bedside table for hours in the same room where patients were eating their meals, and visitors and staff were coming and going. I saw not one doctor or health professional wash their hands between patients. No wonder there are so many deaths in the obituary section every day. The longer your loved one is there the more you see and the more scary it all becomes.

  • Angela
    January 30, 2014 - 08:06

    Nutrition. A foreign concept??? Perhaps if proper nutrition was a focus in our healthcare, we would not have so many sick people. Further, feeding our sick with bread and crackers and other highly processed and warmed meals exacerbates the problem. A major paradigm shift is needed. And jam and crackers is not the answer.

  • Miss Townie
    January 30, 2014 - 08:03

    Why not make MHA's pay tax on all their income rather than hiding part of it as a stipend? This would produce more tax revenue for the province and pay for the cuppa tea for those who are unable to get out to get it for themselves.

  • Guy Incognito
    January 30, 2014 - 07:49

    Pathetic move to save a few dollars. They should take away Vickis snacks between supper and breakfast and see how she fares.

  • tim
    January 30, 2014 - 07:14

    Time for a shake up at the highest levels of eastern health. They have obviously lost any idea of what they are doing. I don't want to be like the rest of the country - this is Newfoundland - and quite frankly we are better than that.

  • Dee
    January 30, 2014 - 07:09

    I have worked with the healthcare for over thirty years let me tell you patients are well fed,they may not get snacks delivered to their rooms but al the kitchens are stocked with milk,juice coffee,tea,bread ,jam,ice cream.some units has to leave it in the lunch room because of family and friends helping themselves,whenever they want.I can't tell you how many times I had seen visitors put a handful of tea and coffee,sugar packets,creamers in their pocket,yeswe let them know supplies are for patients use only but we are not security.So before family and friends shoot of their mouths they should keep their hands out of the cupboard.

    • Ken Collis
      January 30, 2014 - 11:00

      Holy cow, do you take that saucy mouth to work too? God forbid you be the person I ask for a cup of tea before I go to sleep. And you hide the snacks away!!! Is this even allowed by Eastern Health? It seems the problem is not someone snitching tea bags, but someone to bring a small lunch to the poor guy down the hall with the broken leg. I truly hope you are one of the folks soon retiring.

    • Brad
      January 30, 2014 - 13:11

      Perhaps you'd ought to get back to work instead of posting on the Telegram like I'm sure many of your co-workers do while on shift.