SAULT STE. MARIE, ON – Front-line workers at the Group Health Centre in Sault Ste. Marie say they desperately need a real wage increase if the health centre doesn’t want to lose more staff. In January, the Group Health Centre announced that eight physicians would be leaving the centre at the end of May, leaving 10,000 patients in the area without a family doctor.

Members of CUPE Local 894 are made up of 221 various health care workers and clerical support teams, such as registered practical nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, and many more. The Group Health Centre is the only community health care centre in the Sault Ste. Marie area that provides essential services for the community, like ophthalmology, ultrasound, x-ray, cardiac rehab, obstetrics, and Same Day Appointment Clinic available to patients that have a family doctor at the Group Health Centre.

These front-line workers desperately need an equitable wage increase that reflects the cost of living and high inflation rates. The Group Health Centre has struggled with keeping staff for years. “Recruitment and retention are major issues for our workplace,” President of CUPE Local 894 Tracy Fabbricino says. “The last thing this centre needs is to lose more staff, and if we don’t get a real wage increase that’s exactly what is going to happen. Our workforce is overworked, stressed, and burned out. We don’t want to leave, but if our members can’t afford to pay their bills, they’ll have to.”

Fabbricino says she and her coworkers want the community of Sault Ste. Marie to know that they are firmly against reducing services at the Group Health Centre. “We’re feeling the impact of the loss of these doctors too. Some of our staff’s whole families are going to be without a doctor. We know how important this health centre is to Sault Ste. Marie and our community. We rely on these services too.”

Over the last two years the Group Health Centre has already de-rostered more than 5000 patients, and the centre says more patients are at risk of losing their family doctor this year on top of the 10,000 patient loss at the end of May. With a population of just over 72,000 in Sault Ste. Marie, almost 30 percent of the community could be without a primary care provider by the end of this year.

With the loss of 10,000 patients, members of Local 894 are also worried about layoffs. The Union has been questioning layoffs since 2023, but the employer has not been able to assure the Union that there will be no layoffs.

Debra Maxfield, President of the CUPE Health Care Workers’ Coordinating Committee, says it is critical that the Ford government invest and adequately fund community health centres across Ontario.

“Rural communities across Ontario rely enormously on community health centres just like the Group Health Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, and if we want to keep our communities out of hospitals and emergency rooms and fight recruitment and retention issues, the government must make real investments in these centres,” Maxfield says.

After the May 31 deadline, patients whose doctors will no longer be working at the Group Health Centre will be left with no Primary Care Physician access in the building. “These patients will have to access community resources like the Sault Area Hospital Emergency Room or walk in clinics that are already overburdened by the healthcare system, which isn’t going to provide them with the consistent care they need. Our staff are worried for their patients,” says Fabbricino.

Wait times at the Sault Area Hospital Emergency room are already significantly longer than the rest of the province and will only continue to get worse with an influx of 10,000 patients. In December, the average wait time to be assessed by a doctor in the emergency room was 42 percent higher than the rest of Ontario.

Ultimately, Fabbricino says the Group Health Centre needs more funding to attract and recruit new staff from out of the area and be able to retain the physicians, nurses and other essential staff that are integral to keeping the centre going. “We need to see a wage adjustment that is on par with the wage increases we’re seeing in the hospital sector in Ontario if the Group health Centre wants to retain staff.”

Last week CUPE Local 894 completed five days of bargaining. Their main priorities are increased wages, better benefits and guaranteed minimum hours of work.

The local goes back to the bargaining table on April 11, 2024.


For more information:

Shannon Carranco, CUPE Communications, 514-703-8358, [email protected]