Enrolment way up for N.S. continuing care assistant programs after pay raise, says minister

·4 min read
Barbara Adams, the minister of seniors and long-term care, left, meets with Janet Simm, the president and CEO of Northwood. Adams says there's been significant interest in CCA training since the province announced a pay raise for staff.  (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)
Barbara Adams, the minister of seniors and long-term care, left, meets with Janet Simm, the president and CEO of Northwood. Adams says there's been significant interest in CCA training since the province announced a pay raise for staff. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)

There's been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are enrolling in continuing care training programs after Nova Scotia announced a boost in salaries for CCAs, according to the minister of seniors and long–term care.

Barbara Adams said 910 people have registered to start programs this fall. That's compared to about 300 the year before.

"It is a massive, massive change. It literally has reversed the flow out the door," Adams said. "There are wait-lists at some facilities across the province. That's a first for the last decade, to see wait-lists to get into these programs."

In February, the province increased CCA salaries by 23 per cent, about $9,000 a year.

"The [staffing] numbers have been increasing; we know that is directly the result of the government increasing the CCA rates," said Shauna Wilcox, a Unifor staff representative.

"I know from talking to one of the employers that they're having great success in getting people wanting to take the CCA program."

The union represents about 2,000 CCAs in Nova Scotia. She said some of the employees are in the process of getting their raises.

Wilcox said while the pay boost hasn't instantly fixed the sector's problems, it has made a noticeable difference.

"We're being very hopeful that we're going to see more people continue to come into the field. I know it has helped with some people not retiring, they're going to stay on for a while, and with some of the people not leaving," she said.

Adams said there are 400 seats at the Cape Breton Business College for people who study three days a week and work two days as CCAs-in-training.

The minister said 50 facilities in the province were able to hire enough staff to reach full capacity. That put them in a position to apply for funding to bring on additional staff to help improve care.

The province's goal is to have enough employees to provide 4.1 hours of care per resident.

"Only one other province in Canada offers that high a level of care," said Adams, who was referring to the Yukon.

Borrowing to pay for expansion

The increase in training numbers comes as the province provided an update on its plan to build or renovate 27 long–term care facilities. Three of those projects were already in the works. The first of those, in Mahone Bay, should be complete by May of next year.

The government has borrowed $1.8 billion in order to fund the remaining 24 projects that are still in the planning stages.

When they're complete, there will be 500 new long-term care beds in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

"We used to say it's great, we need the long–term care beds ... but we were very doubtful where they were going to get staff," said Wilcox. "Now we're feeling more hopeful that as time goes by and beds are built, people will be more inclined to become a CCA."

Wait-list for beds at 2,229

As of last month, Nova Scotia had 1,946 people on the wait-list for a bed in long-term care. A further 283 are in hospital, which ties up beds that could be used to deal with surgical backlogs.

Adams said the number in hospital almost matches the number of vacant long-term care beds that cannot be filled at the moment.

Part of the problem, she said, has been the closure of facilities to intake because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Adams said eight facilities in the province are currently experiencing outbreaks, which has limited new admissions.

"There's a number of transfers that are coming up," she said of the vacant beds. But Adams said the vast majority of beds can't be filled because of ongoing staffing issues.

She said on-the-job injuries are still a major concern, and they need to keep up the hiring campaign to get enough staff to open all the beds.

"We are turning the ship around and moving in the right direction, but the key is the staffing," she said.

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