A group of employees and volunteers quit and walked out of Ty Watson House Hospice last week after a well-loved employee was let go.
The hospice is still operating “as usual,” according to the Alberni Valley Hospice Society.
The group’s spokeperson said 14 staff and volunteers have left Ty Watson House over what they call systemic bullying.
The Alberni Valley News spoke to a small group of staff and volunteers who were part of the walkout; none were willing to use their names for fear of retribution. None of those who quit were part of the medical staff that deal directly with hospice residents.
Hospice executive director Teresa Ludvigson said the numbers are exaggerated: only three staff members walked out in protest. “We had to let an employee go and people are retaliating in anger,” she added. “We have 11 or 12 staff.”
A letter sent to staff and volunteers on April 16 outlined a restructuring of the Alberni Valley Hospice Society, and confirmed that the house manager position was being eliminated. Tasks that the former house manager had taken on will be redistributed.
The letter explained the decision was financial. The hospice society is required to run a balanced budget, but they have had a deficit in the past few years. “Staff salaries and wages are our greatest expense and we have looked closely at job descriptions and have identified tasks that could be redistributed,” the letter reads.
The society had posted online seeking two cooks, and Ludvigson said one of the cooks was already planning on retiring and is training new staff before she leaves.
The group that walked out said too much emphasis is being put on process and politics and not enough on people. “The premise of hospice is to serve our clients and their families at the end time of their life with dignity and compassion. It doesn’t come down from the board to the volunteers,” one person said.
“When you’re dealing with people grieving, in bereavement, it’s a hard job,” another person said. “It’s a hard job because people are dying.”
Many of the volunteers who quit have been at Ty Watson House for many years and are specially trained; some are elderly and don’t want to fight administration, so they are leaving it to this small group.
“I had to think long and hard before I put in my resignation,” said one longtime volunteer. “When people in the community hear ‘hospice’ they think ‘Ty Watson House.’ They don’t think about the office.”
Alberni Valley Hospice Society board chair Robyn Monrufet said the hospice remains open and operating. “The house is in good order,” she said. “There aren’t any shortages and it’s functioning as usual. We recognize that the community depends on that.
“I would like to reassure the community that the house is still fully functioning and we will continue to meet our health and safety requirements and regulatory requirements.”
Ty Watson House has operated at 80 to 100 percent capacity for the past 15 months, she said.
“It’s fair to say like many organizations through this past year it’s been very complex.”
The hospice society has been required to adjust its processes and procedures due to COVID-19 protocols and “it’s been difficult for some of our staff and volunteers to do that,” she said.
A number of older volunteers quit coming to the hospice when the novel coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020, she added.
The group’s spokesperson said staff and volunteers continued to fulfill their shifts through the pandemic.
The staff who walked out said they want the public to know where their taxpayer money and donations are going, but they don’t want to see the hospice close. They said change is needed at the administration level.
Many of them said they would consider returning to the hospice if that change happens.