Union Matters Podcast #4: Protecting The Public Blood Supply

This week, we have a special guest host of Union Matters!

Mary Otto is President of NSGEU Local 43, which represents lab workers of Canadian Blood Services in Nova Scotia. Mary also sits on NSGEU’s Political Action Committee and traveled to Ottawa at the end of October as part of a lobby effort with Bloodwatch and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union in support of Senate Bill 252, the Voluntary Blood Donations Act (An Act to amend the Blood Regulations). The Bill has just passed its second reading and will be going to Committee.

The legislation would ban the collection of paid plasma in Canada. Currently, for-profit agencies like Canadian Plasma Resources have set up shop in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, where they pay Canadians for their plasma, then sell it to the highest bidder on the global market.

On this week’s podcast, Mary speaks with Pauline Worsfold, Chair of the Canadian Health Coalition and Secretary-Treasurer of the CFNU.

For background information on paid plasma in Canada, see MacLean’s “A bloody mess: The story behind paid plasma in Canada.”

For more information on the Canadian Health Coalition, please visit http://www.healthcoalition.ca/ and for information on Bloodwatch, see https://bloodwatch.org/.

If you’d like to join the letter-writing campaign in support of Bill S-252, visit  https://bloodwatch.org/letter-campaign/.

And for a link to “Body Count: the human cost of financial barriers to prescription medications,” the research paper discussed on the podcast, please see https://nursesunions.ca/research/body-count/.

Please let us know what other issues you’d like us to tackle on upcoming shows! You can send your ideas and feedback to communications@nsgeu.ca


Thanks, and happy listening!


See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:

Hi and welcome to the NSGEU podcast Union Matters. My name is Mary Otto and then going to be a post for today. I am a member of the NSGEU’s political action committee and I am also the president of Local 43, which represents the lab workers of Canadian Blood Services. I’m coming to you today from Ottawa, where I participated in a lobby that was put on by Bloodwatch and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) in support of a Senate Bill, Bill 252 that was introduced by Pamela Whalen, which is the Voluntary Blood Donations Act. Today I have with me Pauline Worsfold, who is the chair of the Canadian Health Coalition as well as the Secretary-Treasurer CFNU. Welcome Pauline.


PW Yes thank you Mary. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today and to be interviewed and to talk a little bit about the Canadian Health Coalition and what we do nationwide.


MO Can you tell us what the Canadian Health Coalition is?


PW Sure, it’s a coalition of partners that span a variety of groups including unions, we have churches, we have a lawyer, we have a doctor, they all sit on the board and students and concerned citizens that participate on our website, etc., so we are committed to enhancing, expanding while also preserving and protecting the Canadian health system and to ensure that it remains public, not for profit – based on need greed.


MO That’s something I think that all members care about. tDo you work with the health coalitions in the different provinces and territories as well?


PW Yes we do, we are closely affiliated with the Nova Scotia Health Coalition and have been for a number of years now so we work right across the country with health coalitions, and they are the on-the-ground people, they are the ones that do the campaigning or the letter writing, etc., whereas the National Health Coalition, the Canadian Health Coalition, we are more of a research and policy in order to give the health coalitions in the provinces on the ground the ability to do their campaigning by providing them with information and statistics over whatever they need. We have a monthly call that all the health coalitions participate in and as I said it’s a conference call so we can keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in all the different provinces and territories — when they’re able to participate on the call — so that we are in-the-know and can support the coalitions where needed.


MO That’s great. I was actually taking a look at your website this morning and I am actually part of the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, so I know what an amazing resource you guys are, I feel like that’s something I wanted to share with our members, just the wealth of knowledge that is there, because I really feel like that’s something that our members can use for when they’re campaigning for these different health issues in our own provinces. I’m sure you’re aware we have quite a few issues going on in Nova Scotia right now.


PW Yes that’s for sure and even for regular everyday members they are talking at work to their coworkers and they need support for their position on that for-profit health care is really not the right way to go, they can just go to our website, we have fantastic myth busters there, anyone can look at it, and actually see why for-profit health care is bad for the health of Canadians.


MO That’s wonderful. So it is that one of the reasons that you’re here involved with the Bloodwatch? Well, obviously, you’re also part of the CFNU, one of the executive, but obviously you support that as well. What are some of the other campaigns that you support?


PW We’re really excited to partner with Bloodwatch.org on this and in my role as Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions it’s our mandate to partner with groups that need support from health workers, nurses, and others from across the country on an issue so important as keeping our blood safe and secure and the system itself is sustainable.


MO I know. For me it’s imperative not just because of the work that I do every day. So I work in the component production lab in Dartmouth and also sometimes the product distribution side of it, so I follow, basically if you donate blood in Nova Scotia, P E I, or New Brunswick there’s the chance I’ve had my hands on your blood or have processed it in some way. What I do is from the time the donation comes into the lab (this is a simplified version) I process it, I spin it down separated into its different components, and then get it ready and then send it out to the hospital. I see the direct impact that you hear about the stories from the patient’s, and I’m sure you’re on that other side as a nurse and you see the direct impact it has on the patients. But, also for me, I have family members who use the product and a family member who was affected by the tainted blood scandal. So that’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to me. I really appreciate the fact that you and Bloodwatch work so hard to make this happen.


PW For me, as a registered nurse, and I am still practicing nurse as well, I wear a lot of hats as they say.


MO I think a lot of us who are who get involved in union stuff, you end up getting more and more of those hats.


PW That’s what they say: if you want something done give it to a busy person


MO Yeah, you’re going to get stuff done and I can tell already that you are somebody who is a force to be reckoned with. I noticed that on the Hill yesterday.


PW Well, in my role as a registered nurse I work in the recovery room at the University Hospital in Edmonton and I do give blood products, blood and blood products, and it was very coincidental I think that, just last week when I was at work we had a patient that required a plasma based product in the recovery room, and as I was doing a double check before I administered it, I was thinking in my head, ‘Wow, how fortuitous is this that next week I will be on the hill lobbying to protect the Canadian blood system as we know it.”


MO So for those of you who may not realize what this bill is, is essentially banning paid plasma. There’s a company called Canadian Plasma Resources who have opened up a plasma collection centre in Saskatchewan and then also in New Brunswick, in Moncton, where they are paying people for their plasma, which is the yellow straw-coloured portion of their blood and this product is being sold on the international market where it will never be used for Canadian patients. It’s being sold untested and it leaves the country and it is drawing donors away from the public system. It’s now been shown in Saskatchewan and we’re starting to see it in New Brunswick as well, where our donor base is dropping. So it’s pretty scary stuff. It absolutely threatens the Canadian blood supply, as well as, I think, putting us at risk of moving towards an Americanized system, which I think is what opened the door to the tainted blood scandal in the first place, where thousands of people died and were infected with both hepatitis C and HIV. In Nova Scotia, it pretty much wiped out our hemophiliacs, which is just such a tragedy. So that’s why this is a really urgent issue. It’s also a really urgent issue in Nova Scotia because we do not currently have any sort of legislation in place to ban this practice and so some provinces: Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and most recently BC have banned this so this predatory company cannot — and others who are lined up to try to get licensing from Health Canada — they can’t actually operate in those provinces but in Nova Scotia we’ve yet to have a commitment from our Health Minister to introduce this legislation. We know that Canadian Plasma Resources has plans in place to open up clinic — well I can’t even call it a clinic, because if you think of clinics, clinics help people, they’re part of the health system. This is a predatory centre where they will be taking these blood donations and sadly sending them off shore. Yes it’s really scary in Nova Scotia right now.


PW It is, it’s scary and the other thing that’s interesting is that the price of plasma per ounce is actually more than an ounce of gold.


MO Yes and that’s why they call it —  it’s big, a billion dollar industry and they see Canada as this untapped market to come in and it’s really scary when you start to put money over people’s health. Health care should not be about money because that’s when you open the door to health tragedies. I think there’s a lot of information about this on the Canadian Health Coalition website.


PW Yes, there is and on https://bloodwatch.org/. The organization focuses entirely on this subject


MO Kat Lanteigne, who is the Executive Director, who we were hoping to speak to, she’s unfortunately lost her voice this morning because she’s just been yelling up a storm on the hill and working so hard. She does invaluable things and I think it’s really important our members actually go to the website and support as much as possible.


PW I couldn’t agree with you more. Some of the other things the Health Coalition is working on and has been for a number of years now is Pro-Public Medicare as in no privatization, in particular privatization for profit because people should not be making profit off the backs of sick patients. Absolutely not. And then, of course, Pharmacare, the national public plan drug plan. I know NUPGE, who sits on our board, are big supporters of those things that we have prioritized over the years and of course it ebbs and flows with whatever’s happening in each of the provinces, but we are on the cusp, I believe, of getting a national public drug plan for the country of Canada, you know, all the provinces and the territories. We are poised right now. We have been successful with this Liberal federal government for them to set up a committee on the implementation of a national Pharmacare plan. So it wasn’t to have another study about–


MO Yeah, that’s the thing that’s really exciting is this is an actual committee and they actually been doing consultations across the country so I know the Nova Scotia Health Coalition and NSGEU as well have put in submissions basically what we want to see a Pharmacare looking like because, there’s different people have different ideas about what it should be, don’t they?


PW Yes they totally do. That fill-in-the-gaps model that’s out there floating around and what we really need is what we’ve been calling the full meal deal.


MO It really will save Canadians billions of dollars in health care, won’t it, if we can actually manage to make it a truly national public system where it’s free drugs for all.


PW Yes, it will. Up to thirteen billion dollars — billion with a B.


MO And I think it will save thousands of people’s lives.


PW Absolutely. CFNU did a cutting edge piece of research and we called it Body Count. Sounds like kind of a morbid name for a research paper but it really is about people who die because of inaccessibility to their medications for a variety of reasons, and Steve Morgan said it’s like a full plane load of people going down every couple of months in the country. We wouldn’t stand for that and yet we turn a blind eye to the medications, the costs, and the inability for people to maintain purchasing them. We think as union members we have pretty good plans and yet we still have to pay something.


MO Yeah, no absolutely. We do have a good plan–I’m really lucky in that I have an amazing plan so I get chronic migraines and you know for six pills and something like $80.00, and my best friend who runs her own business, she’s working really hard and she does not have a health plan and she also gets chronic migraines, and for her these are essential drugs but the amount of money she’s spending on the scene migraine medication — sometimes she just suffers through it. I know that our members who work in health care, our nurses, the stuff that they’re seeing in hospitals — I’ve had discussions, I’m sure you’re seeing the same type of thing — people coming back in because they can’t afford their medication.


PW Yeah, and part of the unfinished business of Medicare — Tommy Douglas had a vision, and the vision was that all health be covered under Medicare and that would include vision care, and teeth —


MO For anybody’s ever had an abscess tooth, well that can kill you and that is the healthcare issue and to try do you know I haven’t actually have a broken teeth right now as you can see it’s half a tooth and I’ve it had for a while because I’ve been waiting on approval from my benefit plan to actually get back to me to let my dentist know that I’ll cover half of my crown. So I’ve been walking around with half a tooth. We were hoping that it doesn’t get re-infected or anything like that, but you know, the system we have now that’s not considered a health issue. I don’t understand how because it’s in your mouth it’s not part of your body. This doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?


PW And we’re the lucky ones because we have good plans.


MO Oh absolutely. There’s been times when I said I cannot afford to lose my job because I unfortunately have been blessed with bad teeth. My grandmother says I have her teeth. My dentist is that she’s never seen anything like it. I go from having a spot to a full blown filling and it has been my saving grace that I’ve got an amazing dental plan and I know people who live in horrible pain. They pull out their own teeth. They’re embarrassed because they’ve got crappy teeth to be blunt and it makes it hard to find a job. So because you have to be professional. I’ve talked to some of our members who are dental hygienists and who do cleaning and work with public health and they’re going into schools and you’ve got these children who — and Nova Scotia has a real poverty problem and even though there is coverage for children, thank God, up to a certain age, but there are kids who are living in pain with bad teeth, and I know our members see it, and you know it’s really, I think, a part of the health care system that’s just letting people fall through the cracks and living in pain and suffering. We really do need a true national healthcare system and we don’t really have a true national health system, do we?


PW No we don’t, we have a bunch of silos and a bunch of provinces and it’s really determined by borders as to what is covered and what isn’t covered. Even if you’re in the hospital those drugs are covered and yet if you go home they’re not covered. So it’s just a mish-mash and what we really need is a full meal deal where the entire body is covered including drugs to keep people healthy so they don’t end up in the health care system. And the health care system really is misnamed. It’s really a sick care system because you only go the hospital when you’re sick so if we can keep more people out of the hospitals and at home, in their own homes, for longer, living a happy, healthy life, that would make Canada even a better place than it already is.


MO And I think obviously Canadians agree because they’re so proud of what we do have. Wasn’t there a contest about the greatest Canadian and Tommy won for his vision of health care. Was he involved in the creation of the Canadian Health Coalition? I was looking and saw a picture of him, or he was at least involved in some way.


PW Yeah, I think he kind of spurred it into birth.


MO I think he inspired a lot of Canadians to fight for this. If our members want to get involved in the Canadian Health Coalition in anyway is there anything that they can do to help you do your work?


PW Yes, of course, there always is. The Canadian Health Coalition is funded by great people like you and your members who donate on a regular basis so that we can do the good work. We are a two person office here in Ottawa. We punch way above our weight. People cannot believe we only have two staff people. We have an excellent board I have to say.


MO I met some of your members yesterday when I was lobbying on the Hill and they are absolutely forces to be reckoned with. I was really proud to stand beside them and talk to some members and MPs and just that knowledge base that’s there.


PW I’m so glad to hear that, very pleased to hear that. We are a participatory board because we only have two staff, so we work very closely as a board and always keep an eye on our website because on occasion we would like people to sign up on a petition or participate in a letter writing campaign at the Health Coalition. I know that Nova Scotia has a very robust health coalition there, and that’s fantastic. We work very well with them on whatever their topics are. It’s funny that you think maybe your topic is unique in your province, or in your territory, and it’s not really. I’m sad to say that those bad things go from province to province and it really just depends on who the government of the day is and what their mantra is as to what the challenges are occurring within the health care system in the provinces. But, always keep an eye on the HealthCoalition.ca website to see what’s coming. We will be having a lobby at the end of January, the Canadian Health Coalition. We have one once a year and we will be sending out information for those who are interested and come and lobby your MP. The topic this year will be Pharmacare.


MO That’s awesome, and for those who can’t actually make it to the Lobby on the Hill, they can actually go out and see about meeting with their own MPs in their communities, can’t they?


PW Absolutely, yes! We will have information available on the website you can print it off, take your own notes, and go see your own MP in your own constituency and that’s pretty powerful. Because, you know, a lot of lobbies come to Ottawa but to have a similar lobby with the same topic and the same speaking points in the constituencies, that holds a lot of weight, because the MP then says, “Oh, wow, people are really taking this seriously and want some change done.”


MO And they’re getting ready for election right now, so I think that that’s where you really can political power, because, I think, when you have a constituent show up to your door when you are getting ready for that election and they are armed with knowledge and they’re ready to sit down and talk and fight for this, I think that carries a lot of weight, that somebody’s actually taking the time to show up in the community. We always think “I can’t make it to that Lobby on the Hill, what can I do?” and that’s where, in your community it really is important.


PW Yeah, that’s what they say, right? Ain’t no power like the power of the people and the power of the people won’t stop.


MO Exactly, and I think provincially as well we need to start showing up and I think for health care in Nova Scotia we really need to get out and vote out our current government. You’ve recently done that in Alberta, haven’t you? Are you finding a difference in the provincial government you have now?


PW Yes it’s a huge difference. We have Rachel Notley is our Premier and she’s New Democrat and their policies have been amazing for the last few years. We will be having an election next year. I’m sure that Albertans will make the right choice and keep Rachel Notley in office. Her policies have been amazing. It’s been, since she was in power that the health minister banned the For-Profit clinics and they have been building and hiring instead of firing people and laying people off and decimating systems that really need to be kept and built up, so we’re really happy right now in Alberta. After forty four years of having a conservative government to have a breath of fresh air and the NDP — ‘m just so happy. Just by way of a tidbit of trivia — Rachel Notley is a labour lawyer who used to work for the United Nurses of Alberta, so she knows union issues, she knows health care issues, and I like to think that she’s one of our own that has now moved on to be the Premier of Alberta.


MO NSGEU are non-partisan, but we have gotten the mandate from our members because the McNeil Government has basically tried to destroy us as a union and unions in general to try to get rid of him. I think what’s really important is to actually look at who you are, who is running, and what their background is, and also talk to them and say “Are you going to support me getting a fair collective agreement?” Health care, teachers in Nova Scotia, we’ve been at this standstill and we’re just now finally through a huge amount work and all the unions coming together, and working really well together. They were hoping that the unions would rip each other apart, but it actually worked really well. I think one thing that MacNeil Government has done for unions in Nova Scotia is it’s worked really well in bringing us together, really to fight him. I think it’s just it’s important that going into any election that we really need to think critically about, you may like the person running for that party as a person but are they actually going to be able to follow through. Having the right government in Alberta has shown what a huge difference it can make and how it can start to turn things around.


PW That’s right. I want to be clear, the United Nurses of Alberta are also non-partisan, as well as the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, we are also non-partisan, but I guess that’s the personal glowing review of what’s going on in Alberta right now.


MO Absolutely. I’m sure if it was any other party who was making these changes you would be giving them the same glowing review. I think it’s not necessarily the party it’s the actions of that governing body, because let’s face it the parties from province to province and actually just from leadership to leadership can be vastly different. The Liberal Party in one province can be completely different than the Liberal Party in another province. The same with conservatives. You have a red conservative, which is more the traditional or leaning centre — it’s complex I think that’s where you have to look at it critically keep yourself aware of what’s going on. We really need to make sure we get out and vote. It has a huge impact on our lives.


PW That’s where the power lies, is in the vote, absolutely.


MO I think our health care system really depends on us getting out and fighting. I really want to thank you for all the work you do and for coming and talking to me and our members about what you do.


PW Well thank you for having me.


MO It’s really been a pleasure. I look for it to hopefully doing some work with you again.


PW Absolutely. I look forward to the same and I know we have a great board member in NUPGE that sits on the Canadian Health Coalition Board and for sure we always enjoy–


MO That who I actually met before he chaired a multi-union meeting for Canadian Blood Services. He is a really good guy and I know we have a really good representation with him on that.


PW You’re right, good strong people on our board.


MO Hopefully our members can help support the work that the Canadian Health Coalition does and I really appreciate the work that you do and you have that information. You mentioned that report about health care earlier. Is that on your website?


PW It’s on the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions website (https://nursesunions.ca/) it’s called Body Count (https://nursesunions.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/2018.04-Body-Count-Final-web.pdf) it talks about the negative impact of not having a Pharmacare plan, a national public drug plan for everybody living in Canada.


MO Excellent, because I’ve actually looked at that report and it is a really great report and it’s a really great resource to have for when we’re making our arguments for Pharmacare


PW Thanks again Mary


MO Have a good trip back to Alberta.


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