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Long-term care staff in Nova Scotia still overworked and underpaid, MLAs told

Standing committee on health hears chorus of concerns from unions

2 min read
19 people are pictured in Zoom gallery view.
caption MLAs hear from witnesses at the standing committee on health virtual meeting on Jan. 12.
Screenshot by Alexandrea Guye

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.

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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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About the author

Alexandrea Guye

Alexandrea Guye is a journalist with The Signal located in Kjipuktuk/Halifax. She loves the outdoors and is interested in local stories, human...

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  1. D

    Donna ogden

    I have worked as a pcw for 25 years and saw more work load put on a pcw and residents coming in on stretchers and confused. Some aggressive and some total care. I found personally that a pcw is required to do so much of the other departments work such as dishes sweeping floors handing out food putting laundry away making beds keeping rooms cleaned there was not enough time in the day to spend with my residents. When I first started as a pcw the residents were walking through the doors and when one was brought in on a stretcher we were surprised. Now we are surprised if we have a resident walking in the door. I was overwhelmed and exhausted and new I couldn’t do this anymore so I switched out of my job and went to dietary. I loved my residents and job but just couldn’t handle the workload anymore. They have now hired aides because of a shortage. There wouldn’t be a shortage if the government hired full time aides to do those extra chores so the cca could concentrate on their residents more and not be overwhelmed. But there is no funding for that. Only if there is a shortage. So when an aide comes in they cannot help with any type of personal care which still requires one cca to take care of 13 residents. Wake up government we need more help for our elderly. These elderly people deserve better than this. When their families can’t be there they need to know it’s ok because my loved one will be taking care of by their ccas today. They shouldn’t have to worry if their loved ones are not getting the care they sooooo deserve.
    • M

      Marla Nickerson

      Thank you Donna for your comment. As a LPN I can assure and verify that this statement is true. Our government refuses to admit flaws in the model of care that has been adapted in newly built facilities. Their model shows two CCAs/ PCWs providing quality care to 12- 14 clients in an open concept kitchen and living space. This is great and works well in theory. Their theory doesn’t include 60 -70% of clients may require two person care, agressive behaviours , wandering residents we need to keep safe, answering callbells and etc. I will make an estimated guess 4 1/2 hours in a 12 hour work day is spent cleaning up after 3 meals , tidying rooms and putting away laundry. Let’s not forget the documentation required by staff to capture the events of client care , another hour can be added on depending on the day. What a difference it would make for the lives of the residents living in LTC in this province if full time unit aides were available for each living space ( house hold) for even 6 hrs a day.
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