SUDBURY -- The Ontario Nurses' Association, or ONA, is filing another complaint into the working conditions at the Clarion Hotel.

The hotel has been the site of more than 80 alternative level-of-care (ALC) patients for more than a few months now. Health Sciences North had moved them to the hotel as part of its pandemic preparations.

Most ALC patients are seniors or people in need of a long-term care home but have instead wound up in the hospital because there were no beds available.

"There's a number of things that are going on and this has been going on since April," said Vicki McKenna, a registered nurse and ONA president. "We had a combination of ONA nurses, nurses from St. Joe's Continuing Care and our paramedical group, some of those health professionals from Health Sciences North ... move over to help for those people who needed care." 

McKenna said her members were shocked by the conditions they found themselves in. She said patients were put into the hotel in close quarters, there was no hand sanitizer bottles and a lack of security.

Members of the public were able to wander in on the floor from off the street and so they complained about health and safety conditions.

Problems from the start

"If it's safe for the people caring for the patient, it's safe for the patient, and right from the get-go there were problems and substantive problems in regards to infection control," said McKenna.

She said both HSN and St. Joe's are responsible for the health and safety of patients and employees. According to ONA, last week there was a health and safety inspection done and their representatives were not included. She said that violates the current regulations and the law.

Security has become a major concern. Staff has told McKenna there is supposed to be security on site, but it hasn't proved effective.

"The staff come in at irregular hours and there's no secure parking or things like that," she said. "I think there have been some measures that have been put in place, but certainly it is not ideal and that's why the appeal continues." 

"I don't know what the status is for capacity right now at the hospital or at St. Joe's Continuing Care," McKenna said. "But what I have been told is in those hotel rooms, they have two residents in each room and that's tight and the ideal for good infection control is that you have good separation."

One of those patients in those hotel rooms is Claire Gravelle's 90-year-old mother.

"I'm trying to get her out of there because I fear for her safety and the Clarion is not a place to put our elderly people," said Gravelle.

Concerned for her mother

She said she's been trying to get more information from hospital officials in terms of how much longer her mother will have to stay there, but she's had no luck. She said the conditions have her concerned and is worried her mother will never get out.

Gravelle said not only are the conditions tight, but often the food is cold and the wash isn't getting done. Her mother is currently on the list for a spot at a Chelmsford nursing home.

She said the nursing staff has been amazing and they're trying to make do with the current conditions.

"I get some answers, people have helped me but I would like to talk to somebody up there that knows what is going to happen, how long, what is their long-term plan. That is what I'd like to know ... nobody can answer that."

Along with HSN and ONA, St. Joseph's Continuing Care, the Clarion Hotel and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1623 have all been granted intervener status in the appeal.

It's unclear on how long the hospital plans to keep ALC patients there before moving them back to the main site.

In reaction to the concerns about the Clarion, HSN and St. Joseph's issued a joint statement late Tuesday to CTV:

"As this matter is currently under appeal by ONA (local 13 Paramedical) with the Labour Relations Board, we can’t comment publicly while this process is underway," the statement said.

Committed to safe environment

"What we can say is that the health and safety of staff with HSN and St. Joseph’s Continuing Care Centre is of the utmost importance and we are all committed to working with our respective Joint Health and Safety Committees to ensure a safe working environment for all.

"With 84 ALC patients currently at HSN and occupancy staying above 90 per cent in recent weeks, having St. Joseph’s Continuing Care Centre lead the operation of the Clarion Hotel in collaboration with HSN is vital to ensuring we are able to meet the care needs of our community including a potential surge of COVID-19 patients."