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OTTAWA Twenty-five mental health crisis intervention counsellors at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre are in a fight to protect their services after receiving layoff notices, effective March 31st, 2004. The services are being transferred to the Ottawa Hospital under a sketchy restructuring plan.

At a time when skilled professionals are at a premium, we are being thrown out of work and the future of this important resource is being jeopardized, says Igor Ziemba, president of Local 4369 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). The need for this service continues to be a priority and the funding remains in place. Crisis intervention counsellors help community service providers, police and family members deal with people, often in quite distressing circumstances, who are experiencing difficulties associated with severe mental illness. They also provide direct services to clients in crisis twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The Ottawa Hospital is the transfer payment agency for the Mental Health Crisis Service, which is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. Workers have been told positions will have to be reassessed and staff will have to reapply. To date, no details have been made available regarding the criteria for employment. All we know is that were being laid off and the service is being transferred to the Ottawa Hospital. Plans for its location are as yet unknown, says Ziemba. We are very concerned for the well-being of the people who rely on our service. These are vulnerable people who dont adapt well to change. Now they face the prospect of losing crisis workers theyve come to know and rely on.

The service was set up just three years ago to fill a gap in services as identified in the policy document of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Making it Happen. The program was applauded for its innovative approach to community-based service provided in cooperation with the Ottawa Police Service and the community.

CUPE will take this matter to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, says CUPE National Representative Bev Smale. The need for this service and the nature of the work under the Ottawa Hospital mandate will not be different, and the funding will come from the same source. These workers should follow the program and retain their work automatically.

For further information, please contact:
Bev Smale, CUPE National Representative, CUPE Ottawa Area Office,
Igor Ziemba, President, CUPE Local 4639, 613-241-0422 ext. 230
Robert Lamoureux, CUPE Communications, 416-292-3999

OPEIU 491/gpb