Opinion: Quebec health-care system's problems don't lie with the workers

Teachers and health-care workers deserve to be treated like the most important members of our society, because they are.

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The holiday gifts were wrapped and sitting on the dining room table.

But then I saw the sign indicating no gifts were allowed at CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal, where my 93-year-old dad has been living and receiving first-rate care since May. To avoid putting caregivers in uncomfortable positions (and allegations of undue influence), management asked that we express our gratitude through thank-you notes rather than cookies or gift cards.

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My family situation is no different from that of many others. I am part of the sandwich generation, balancing mothering my three kids, my job as mayor of Westmount and being the primary caregiver for my parents.

Until my father fell, he was relatively autonomous, living with my mother in the West Island, playing golf, volunteering and driving himself wherever he needed to go. Then I received the call during the middle of an agglomeration meeting, and my life changed overnight.    

My friend Claire Webster, an expert at McGill on dementia care and caregiver policy, had warned me I was not prepared for my parents aging. She was right. 

Our journey started at an overcrowded ER that was stretched to its maximum, but was filled with nurses, social workers and doctors with incredible empathy and devotion.   

Once stable, my father needed to move into a full-time care facility.  

We were assigned Vigi Mont-Royal. This facility had been front-page news early in the pandemic, vilified for its faulty ventilation system and the horrifying number of residents who became sick with COVID.

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I was bracing for a rundown building with suboptimal care.  

What I discovered was a long-term care home with devoted and compassionate staff determined to help residents live with dignity. I have witnessed incredible acts of kindness and joy there. Recently, I walked by a room where a resident was dancing and singing with her caregiver. The two of them were smiling from ear to ear.  

We all know our health-care system is overburdened. But the problems don’t lie with the workers. They deserve our thanks and our gratitude. They certainly have mine.  

Due to a blue-collar strike last summer in Westmount, I have spent a lot of time comparing the wages and working conditions of public-sector employees. Health-care workers and teachers who have recently been on the picket lines deserve to be better paid and deserve better working conditions. 

I have often thought provincial and federal politicians need to start governing more like mayors. My bet is that the unfiltered feedback they would receive from their constituents in the grocery store line or at the hockey rink is that the majority of Quebecers support the women and men who have been on strike. In addition, they would discover that most people are incredibly proud of our world-class institutions and believe we should be investing in them rather than penalizing them. Children and the most vulnerable are once again the first to be affected.

Teachers and health-care workers deserve to be treated like the most important members of our society, because they are. So, on behalf of my dad and my family, thank you to the staff at Vigi Mont-Royal. And on behalf of all of us, I thank our health-care workers and our teachers across Quebec. May you enjoy health and happiness in 2024, and of course better compensation and better working conditions.

Christina M. Smith is the mayor of Westmount.

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