COVID-19: Special Order for Health Services Providers Highlights Key Issues for Developmental Services Providers

On March 21, 2020, the government implemented an Emergency Order wish sweeping implications for Health Services Providers.  The order gives providers broad authority to take all reasonable steps necessary to staff as needed during the Pandemic.

This order made pursuant to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) and its implications is described below:

Application:

The order applies to Health Service Providers only – this includes:

  • public hospitals under the Public Hospitals Act,
  • private hospitals within the meaning of the Private Hospitals Act,
  • mental health hospitals governed by the Mental Health Act and
  • the Ottawa Heart Institute.

In addition, on March 23, 2022, similar orders were put in place for Long-Term Care (LTC) Providers and Municipal Homes for the Aged  (see the News Release here: https://news.ontario.ca/mltc/en/2020/03/ontario-implements-enhanced-measures-to-protect-the-safety-of-residents-in-long-term-care-homes.html?utm_source=ondemand&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=p)

Notably, this Order does not apply to Public Health Units or Developmental Services agencies.

Powers Under this Order

The order (and the separate order issued in relation to LTC providers) the power to take any steps necessary in response to the COVID-19, regardless of any collective agreement, statute, regulation, order, policy, arrangement or agreement.   This doesn’t mean that collective agreements and employment agreements go out the window entirely, it does, however, mean that providers can take steps necessary to ensure sufficient staffing.  This includes the power to:

  • Redeploy staff within different locations within the health services provider
  • Redeploy staff to work in COVID-19 assessment centres
  • Change the assignment of work, including assigning non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to perform bargaining unit work
  • Change the scheduling of work or shift assignments
  • Defer or cancel vacations, absences or other leaves
  • Employ extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors, including for the purpose of performing bargaining unit work
  • Use volunteers to perform work including bargaining unit work
  • Provide appropriate training or education as needed to staff and volunteers to achieve the purposes of a redeployment plan
  • Conduct any skills and experience inventories of staff to identify possible alternative roles in priority areas.
  • Collect or require information from staff or contractors about their availability to work or provide services
  • Collect or require information from staff or contractors about their likely or actual exposure to COVID-19 or about any other health conditions that may affect their ability to provide services
  • Cancel or postpone services that are not related to the COVID-19
  • Suspend the grievance process with respect to any matter arising out of this Order for the duration of the Order.

Childcare Supports for Frontline Workers

In order to ensure that staff are not prevented from working due to child care concerns, the Ontario government has announced that it will exempt certain childcare centres from its previous order to close (issued on March 17, 2020) in order to support doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police, and correctional officers.  Childcare will be offered to these workers free of charge and there will be strict guidelines for infection prevention in those childcare centres.

Implications for Developmental Services

These orders highlight very real concerns that are currently plaguing employers in the DS Sector – specifically, restrictions in collective agreements on how, where and when staff can be deployed to meet support needs during this emergency. 

The need for child care is also a very challenging issue for the DS Sector, with many workers seeking leaves of absence due to their children’s schools being closed.  The new leaves created by the government under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 actually exacerbate this issue.  

The fact is that the issues faced by health care providers are almost identical to the issues and challenges DS providers are forced to deal with.  Unfortunately, support for this sector (in the form of childcare or special powers) have not been forthcoming.  Despite recognition that Developmental Services are “essential services” for the purposes of this pandemic (as announced yesterday evening) we have not been treated as such in terms of support from the government.

We urge the government to recognize these challenges and support agencies in this sector and their employees so that people with developmental disabilities can be protected and adequately supported during this pandemic.

For more information, please contact Cheryl Wiles Pooran.