Health Care Member Audra Nixon Combines Compassion and Knowledge to Serve Others

Audra Nixon’s desire to care for the elderly began on her paper route when she was around seven years old. Turning off the flat, rural county road into Maxville Manor and walking into the long-term care facility to drop off the day’s newspaper, young Audra felt like she was home.

“I walked into that place and just knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Audra said.

She has now been working as a Personal Support Worker (PSW) at the manor for 33 years. To her, the best part of this work is the hands-on care with seniors and the intimate bonds that come with it.

“You learn so much,” Audra said. “The wisdom that comes from an elderly person is astounding. It’s all really heart-warming.”

Along with her full-time work as a caregiver, Audra also serves at unit chair of Local 9211 in Maxville, Ontario, and as an executor for the local. When she took over the position as a fairly green leader, she knew her goal was to learn as much as possible about unions and government in order to better support her members.

“I wanted to get more folks involved and make it so they’re not just paying dues,” she said. “It opened everything up a lot more.”

Audra also serves as president of the District 6 Health Care Workers Council, and is a member of the USW International Health Care Workers Council. Through these platforms, she and her fellow activists in Ontario have been able to start a vital conversation around the need to support and uplift the PSW industry.

Six years ago, Audra and others started to see a big change in health care changes, particularly with wage cuts and freezes. This is when she became involved with the district council and started working to create a safe space for fellow PSWs to come together and talk about the challenges they faced.

Now, amidst a pandemic that has severely impacted long-term care facilities, that open communication and advocacy is needed more than ever. Less than two months ago, on May 15, members of Local 9211 protested outside the manor against cuts to care hours that leave vulnerable residents at even greater risk.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” Audra said. “We’re lucky to have enough PPE and our facility isn’t one that has had an outbreak, but we’re already short-staffed because a lot of people don’t want to come to work during this pandemic.”

Even before the pandemic hit Canada, PSWs had been sounding the alarm on their many vulnerabilities for several years. Then, as the virus took hold, conditions in facilities got so bad that the military had to be deployed to five hard-hit centers to help provide medical care.

A May 14 report based on the observations of Canadian Armed Forces personnel also detailed insufficient staff training and inadequate protocols to stop the spread of the virus, poor sanitation, resident neglect, worker burnout, and more. Today, nursing homes account for 81 percent of Covid-19 deaths in the country.

“We’ve been saying we’re in crisis for years,” Audra said. “It wasn’t until residents started passing away that anyone paid attention.”

Audra and a USW staff representative also met with members of their parliamentary government just last month to talk about the many issues facing the industry. Among the demands they made at the meeting were better wages, safer resident-to-worker ratios, and improved inspections of facilities.

“We know what’s needed,” she said. “The government just needs to help us implement it.”

Audra said that being in a union is what allows her and others to use their collective voice to advocate for themselves and others.

“It’s about power and fairness. The more people we have backing us, the stronger our voice gets,” Audra said. “The USW has been very good standing up for these issues and fighting back.”

When she isn’t caring for her residents and standing up for her fellow workers, Audra enjoys spending time with her family and her dog. “My peace has always been my husband and my home,” she said.

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