Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the many threats to worker safety at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care — outlined in a Toronto Star story — is another example of how public-private partnerships saddle the government with inferior facilities, usually at a much greater cost to taxpayers.
"The Waypoint fiasco should not be viewed in isolation," said Thomas. "Work conditions at the Toronto South Detention Centre are just as bad. The incompetence seen in the design and construction of these facilities seriously threatens the health and safety of the workers."
Both Waypoint and Toronto South are products of the public-private partnerships that this government claims are so successful, but that is not really the case said Thomas.
"They are a terrible deal for Ontario citizens. Ontario's Auditor General, who is the taxpayer's watchdog, says the government has spent $8 billion more tax dollars than would have been the case if P3 facilities had been developed by the public sector," he explained. "These public-private private partnerships vacuum money out of the pockets of Ontario taxpayers for the benefit of Liberal supporters at the P3 Infrastructure Ontario trough."
Waypoint, located in Penetanguishene, Ont., opened in May 2014. The $474-million facility was a joint project by Infrastructure Ontario and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
"Because of the inexperience of the private sector companies that built the facility, a great deal has gone wrong in the 17 months Waypoint has been open," Thomas said. "The government ignored staff warnings about it opening it prematurely, and their concerns remain ignored despite mounting patient attacks and security breaches."
Patients have fashioned weapons from furniture, wall sockets and metal strappings behind the drywall used in the facility, he said. There have also been chronic failures in the central computerized lock system for all areas in the facility. These failures have resulted in numerous lockdowns and have placed staff at risk.
The Star reported that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has received 107 claims from Waypoint staff since opening. Twelve incidents stemming from assaults, violent acts or harassment resulted in lost work time.
One assault cited by the Star was a patient throwing a cup of boiling water in the face of a registered practical nurse. The nurse was hospitalized overnight and suffered burns to her right eye and face.
In another incident, a patient left his secured room brandishing a homemade sword, forcing the facility into lockdown. This breach resulted in unprecedented action by the employer. The OPP was called, charges were laid against the patient and he was removed from the facility, said OPSEU.
"The Waypoint fiasco is part of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care's campaign to privatize its operations as much as possible," said Thomas. "But privatization of the health care system results in poorer service and sometimes even danger to the general public or public workers, whether it be a patient in Simcoe not getting the timely in-home wound treatment she needs after surgery or a mental health facility in Penetanguishene failing to provide proper security."