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Crash scene conduct probed

Union rep accused of campaigning

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A union official is being criticized for handing out campaign literature to paramedics at the scene of a rollover last Friday evening on Highway 50 west of Lake Manitoba.

The Southern Regional Health Authority is investigating a complaint from the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (MGEU) that a business representative from a rival union entered the cab of an ambulance to drop off campaign material while paramedics were attending to the victim. The incident occurred near Amaranth.

Jim Hunter, vice-president of human resources with the RHA, said officials take the matter seriously. He said the health authority would contact the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals about its staff rep's conduct.

"I will be contacting MAHCP and expressing our concern that that's just totally inappropriate," Hunter said.

There are different accounts of what occurred. However, the two unions agree MAHCP labour relations officer Gary Nelson was at the scene and at some point left union notebooks and other literature for the paramedics.

Both unions are battling to represent 500 technical, professional and paramedical workers within the newly amalgamated Southern Regional Health Authority.

The driver involved in the crash was taken to hospital in Portage la Prairie with non-life-threatening injuries. Hunter said the patient was classified at the time as non-urgent, stable.

Two ambulances were dispatched to the scene -- one from Kinosota, just south of The Narrows on the west side of the lake, and one based in Elie that happened to be nearby. The ambulance from Elie got to the crash first, and the Kinosota crew was told to "stand down," meaning the other crew would handle the call. But since the Kinosota crew was only five minutes away and had no other calls, it proceeded to the scene in case it was needed.

According to the MGEU, which represents members from both ambulance crews, the late-arriving pair witnessed Nelson leaving the cab of the first ambulance while paramedics were working on the patient.

The MAHCP said Nelson was on the scene because he was out on the road on union business and witnessed the rollover. He called 911 and waited there, at the request of authorities, until help arrived. It had been snowing that evening.

Nelson could not be reached Thursday.

However, the union's president, Bob Moroz, said his rep did not hand over any union notebooks or campaign literature at the crash scene until a paramedic asked for them as attendants were wrapping up there.

Moroz said he had no comment on the allegation Nelson entered the ambulance. He said he did not know if that occurred. "I think the important part, from our perspective, is that he was asked for the information," he said.

The MGEU said its members are adamant they didn't ask Nelson for information. "They were busy. The last thought on their mind was union material," said union president Michelle Gawronsky, who is a former paramedic.

She said it was "totally unacceptable" for Nelson to have been inside the ambulance where he could have had access to patient information, overheard paramedics working on the patient or simply got in the way. "It could have definitely compromised the patient care."

Gawronsky said earlier that evening Nelson had gone to the Kinosota ambulance station, dropped off his card and said he would be available in the parking lot if the paramedics wanted to know more about the MAHCP. The MGEU members didn't take him up on the offer, she said.

Hunter said, according to the investigation so far, there was no interference with patient care. Patient health records weren't compromised, he said.

Hunter said the RHA is trying to confirm if Nelson entered the ambulance or simply dropped the notebooks inside it. "Either one is not appropriate as far as we're concerned," he said.

Union battleground

COMPETING unions find themselves in a battle to represent some 7,000 health-care workers throughout southern Manitoba (excluding Winnipeg) because of the province's decision earlier this year to amalgamate regional health authorities.

The new Southern Regional Health Authority, for example, is made up of the former Central and South Eastman RHAs. Currently, technical, professional and paramedical workers are represented by two unions. The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (MGEU) represents these employees in the former Central RHA, while the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP) represents the same classification of workers in the old South Eastman RHA.

The Manitoba Labour Board has ordered a vote within the newly amalgamated RHA to decide which union will get to represent all of these workers. Ballots are being mailed out today and are due back to the labour board by Nov. 30. Similar representation votes are being held throughout southern Manitoba. In addition to the MGEU and the MAHCP, the Canadian Union of Public Employees is also involved in some of these representation votes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2012 A4

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