On February 6, 2019, PIPSC President Debi Daviau and Steward Éric Massey, Nurse at the Archambault Institution in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights to discuss the issues faced by our members at correctional institutions across Canada, in particular those of our health care services members (SH Group).

These nurses, physicians, pharmacists, psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers, dentists, and other relevant specialists provide vital health care services to inmates.

Working in a correctional facility can be both rewarding and challenging. Our members choose this career path because they want to contribute and make a difference. They want to be able to provide vital public services to an underserviced community. But they are often frustrated by the lack of resources available to provide the highest level of care that they trained for. Their ability to do so can also be compromised when operational or security concerns supersede other considerations. 

In addition, working conditions in federal institutions can be very difficult. Staff are exposed to a great deal of violence, both as victims and as witnesses. They serve a population with complex physical and mental health needs and often lack the resources to help their patients.

As well, staffing is problematic. There are recruitment and retention issues when it comes to health care providers in the federal correctional system. Not only are the working conditions challenging, there are situations where the total pay package for nurses and other professions is not keeping pace with those of provincial health authorities. This is undeniably a determining factor for many of our members facing career choices.

We are pleased that Corrections Services Canada (CSC) recognizes that more nursing and health care staff are required. However, we are deeply concerned that if recruitment and retention issues are not addressed, our members will not be in a better position to address the health care needs of federal inmates. Special attention must also be given to their working conditions. Finally, when new programs and policies are introduced, CSC must ensure that adequate health care staff are available to make them a success.

The Committee was very engaged by our presentation and the Senators asked a number of very relevant questions. We look forward to their final report, which we hope will begin the process of addressing the lack of resources our SH members face in the workplace, and the ongoing retention and recruitment issue.