Letter to the Premier- Valerie Francais

To the Honorable Premier of Saskatchewan:

Premier Moe, please allow me to tell you a little about myself.  I was born and raised here in Saskatchewan.  My Great-Grandfather settled in this province back in 1904, and I am the 4th of 6 generations living here on the Prairies.  For nearly 20 years, I have worked as a Continuing Care Assistant, with the past 2 of them being at one of the three hospitals in Saskatoon. 

It is a profession that has given me the ability to care for people from different walks of life with compassion, empathy and without judgement.  I give everything I have to help improve the quality of life for so many individuals, sometimes as a thankless job, but also as one that I find to be very rewarding.  COVID -19 has turned everything upside down.

I love my job.  Its challenges, the people I meet…   The people I work with… let me tell you, they are absolutely the best.  We support each other.  We care about one another.  And let me tell you how heartbreaking it was for me, that I could not hug any of them after returning from a bereavement leave, to attend my mother’s funeral back in March.

I have never had the time to properly grieve her passing.  I think about those who I work with that are on compassionate leave and wonder how they are coping, not being able to work so that they can be with their ailing parents.  I loved the idea of coming to work, knowing that today was not going to be the same as yesterday.  I welcomed the challenge to face each new day and what it had to throw my way.  COVID-19 changed all that.

Now, not knowing what is in store when I walk through the screening process is like walking into a lion’s den.  But I am there to work as a team player, working alongside my nurses, manager and educators to implement and plan new strategies, procedures and practices that will ensure the health and safety of all those patients who are vulnerable, as well as ensuring that the staffs are protected to the best of our ability. 

At times I feel like a specimen under a microscope as support staff watch and scrutinize as I donn and doff PPE.  But I know they are there to make sure we as staff are following the procedures necessary to optimize infection control measures.  Sometimes I wonder if the pain I feel in my chest is just my allergies flaring up, or if it is a symptom of the virus.  So off I go to check my temp, as self-monitoring is drilled into my head constantly. 

No other symptoms present, so I chalk it all up to the level of stress and anxiety that I feel when individuals affected with COVID-19 come for their scheduled treatments. 

At the end of my 12-hour shift, and I remove my mandatory face mask for the final time, after changing it several times throughout the day, it is like a cool breeze hitting my skin.  I change my clothes before leaving and climb into my vehicle to go straight home.  No stopping at the store, no stopping for a bite to eat… straight home. Through the door and straight for the bathroom where I strip and climb into the shower. 

No amount of water can wash the grime, the violation that COVID-19 leaves on my skin.  No amount of soap makes me feel clean.  No hello to my husband.  My dog sits outside the bathroom door and whines because he wants me to play with him.  But safety comes first.  I forgot what it feels like to sleep in the same bed as my husband, because social distancing has taken on a more heightened level because of where I work.  

I miss hugging my grandson, and the last time I had to spend with him was just before the schools closed down.  That happened immediately following my mother’s funeral.  I can’t help but wonder over the past few weeks if he has been keeping up with his school work online.  I miss seeing him, talking to him face to face, and seeing how much he has grown. 

I guess what I am trying to get at is that there have been countless sacrifices I, along with so many healthcare workers have made in order to help flatten the curve and stop the spread of  COVID-19.  And while you go forth to re-open this province through the various phases outlined, there will be a countless number of healthcare employees who will be making the sacrifices of keeping our hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities operational under the strictest of infection control practices.

Our hands will continue to be chapped, cracked and raw from the heightened task of thorough handwashing measures. 

We will continue to practice an increased sense of social distancing out of fear of bringing our families and friends in contact with this virus.  We will continue to show up for work under increased levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. 

We will continue our fight and commitment to help flatten the curve.  We will continue to feel the affects of COVID-19 long after all the restrictions of Phase 5 of your “Let’s reopen Saskatchewan” plan has been lifted.  We will continue to make Saskatchewan one of the greatest places on Earth to live and work. 

With all due respect, Mr. Premier, as you lay your head to pillow tonight, alongside your wife, please think of us, your driving force in stopping COVID-19. We are the employees represented under the SEIU-West Union, who have worked without a contract for the past 3 years. 

As my husband now returns to work after his temporary lay off, please remember that I, along with my union brothers and sisters, have not received a pay increase in the past 4 years. 

Your bargaining committee proposed for us to take a 3.5% roll back on top of things. Please note the added stress of having my husband home for an indefinite period of time, and having us put into a situation where we were forced to make budget cuts and reduction in spending. 

Eating Mac and Cheese for supper became a staple in our home. Please think of those who have put themselves up in a hotel room, instead of going home to their families.  So I implore you to please encourage your bargaining committee to consider returning to the bargaining table to negotiate for a fair and just collective agreement. 

We  put our lives on hold for so many others.  We are what makes this province great.  Treat us fairly for all that we do in the name of humanity, in the name of compassion.

Sincerely, an employee of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, a member of SEIU-West, a resident in the Province of Saskatchewan, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother,

 

Valerie Francais.

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