A poll of 800 Torontonians conducted at the end of February found strong disapproval for contracted-out patient care at University Health Network’s (UHN) Hillcrest Reactivation Centre, where care staff are paid poorly and believe that the hospital is using them as “exploited” labour.

UHN gets provincial funding to provide transitional care to hospital patients. The hospital reopened the shuttered Hillcrest hospital site at Davenport and Bathurst to do that. But instead of operating the facility, UHN contracted out the patient care to a private home care company. When asked how they felt about this privatization of patient care, 76% of those polled in Toronto said they disapprove.

Oracle conducted the poll on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents about 100 personal support workers, nurses and other health care staff at UHN-Hillcrest, a 75-bed facility. In February PSWs spoke out about understaffing at Hillcrest, their low wages and challenging working conditions. In releasing the polling data, one of the PSWs reiterated how exploited she and her co-workers feel by the University Health Network.

Staff turnover rate is more than 40 per cent (yearly) at Hillcrest, where UHN’s contractor, SE Health pays the staff much less than staff are paid at other UHN Toronto hospitals. The majority of these UHN-Hillcrest health care workers are racialized women.

Currently, many of the contracted out PSW staff at Hillcrest are paid $16.50/hr. When asked whether they considered $16.50/hr an adequate living wage for someone living and working in Toronto, 81% said it is “not adequate.” Further, 75% think UHN should employ Hillcrest staff directly, with 86% of respondents saying that Hillcrest staff should be paid the same wages as staff at other UHN hospitals – like Toronto General and the Western.

73% of respondents said they do not think that the three paid sick days a year full-time staff at Hillcrest receive is adequate for a health care worker.

“These polling results should alarm the University Health Network, which is the largest hospital corporation in North America.  People in Toronto do not support the contracting-out of patient care or paying PSWs, nurses and other health care staff low wages for back-breaking work . They do not think that $16.50 an hour is a living wage in Toronto. They do believe that UHN should be employing these hospital workers directly with hospital working conditions, pay and sick days. We strongly encourage UHN to do the right thing and welcome these staff into its hospital workforce,” said Michael Hurley, President of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. “COVID-19 showed the result of poor employment practices in long-term care homes.  The conditions at Hillcrest are much worse.”

Another key finding is that if they or a family member are facing a lengthy stay in hospital, 78% of respondents say they would want to be cared for in a full-service public hospital.

The telephone poll was conducted between February 22 and February 27. The margin of error for the telephone poll for the 800 sample is ± 3.5%, 19/20 times.