Long-term care staff in Nova Scotia still overworked and underpaid, MLAs told
Standing committee on health hears chorus of concerns from unions
January 15, 2021, 7:51 am ASTLast Updated: January 15, 2021, 7:54 am
Unions representing workers in the province’s long-term care homes say their members need more money and more time with residents.
Leaders from several unions addressed the standing committee on health on Tuesday, sharing their frustrations and offering recommendations on ways to improve long-term care.
It’s an ongoing issue.
“Just walk in any long-term care facility in this province, and ask the experts,” Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, said in her opening statement.
CUPE Nova Scotia, which represents 5,700 long-term care workers, has been concerned about staffing numbers for years. “All the studies show that quality of care for residents rests squarely on the quality of the jobs in the sector,” said Govind Rao, a researcher of CUPE’s Atlantic region.
Rao said continuing care assistants are paid $18.96. This wage is well below the living wage of $21.80 in Halifax in 2020, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The union leaders say this results in many workers taking extra shifts at other facilities.
Dr. Kevin Orrell, deputy minister of the Department of Health and Wellness, said all 22 recommendations from the 2018 expert advisory panel on long-term care have been acted on.
Progressive Conservative MLA Barbara Adams, a member of the committee, called this a “reactionary” position and said a five-year plan is necessary.
Michele Lowe, the managing director of the Nursing Home of Nova Scotia Association, said the entire structure has been “teetering on the edge for years.” The association represents 85 per cent of nursing homes in the province.
Hours on patient care
The issue of time spent on patient care was brought up often during the two-hour meeting. Currently, long-term care facilities spend only 3.4 hours on patient care. The Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union recommends 4.1 hours in a 2015 report.
The 4.1 is not made up entirely of licensed care either. Hazelton said only 1.3 hours of care from a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse is needed in a 24-hour period, but this has been a struggle due to staffing issues.
For Hazelton, the status quo isn’t working.
“People coming into long-term care homes are much more compromised, they have lots and lots of issues,” she said. “But they have the same amount of staff caring for them.”
A call for action
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected long-term care facilities in Canada. As of Wednesday, 70 per cent of people who have died from COVID-19 in the country were in these facilities. That’s 11,913 residents out of a total 17,052 deaths in Canada.
In Nova Scotia, 53 of those were residents at the Northwood campus in Halifax.
The speakers stressed the need for immediate changes to long-term care. It’s not the first time they’ve tried to hold the government accountable, said Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.
“Not only did government ignore us, they accused us of fearmongering and hyperbole,” he said.
Hazelton is calling for action.
“We have an obligation as Nova Scotians to step up and do right by our seniors,” said Hazelton, president of the nurses’ union since 2002.
“I came in talking about this, and I do not want to retire talking about this.”
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