When a seniors' home in Wellington, P.E.I., got a licence for 12 long-term beds in 2018, people in the Francophone community were relieved their loved ones could spend the rest of their lives in a familiar environment with nurses who spoke their language.
But four years later, it still remains a dream.
Not because they don't want to, said Claudette Theriault, acting executive director of La Coopérative Le Chez-Nous Ltée. It's because they can't find bilingual nurses to hire.
"We had absolutely no success," she said. "Not one candidate applied."
So this spring, the Chez-Nous board of directors made the "difficult" decision to put the long-term care plan on hold and fill the rooms with community care patients.
There is a waiting list for community care living, Theriault said, so there will be no problem filling the 12 rooms, which will increase the home's number of residents to 60.
But when a resident requires a higher level of care, they will have to be moved to a long-term facility.
"That's the sad part," Theriault said.
"The whole process when it started was to ensure that the seniors of our community could live here forever, and continue to live here regardless of their health condition. If they get dementia, they could continue to live here. And live in the language where they were born and raised and live all their lives in French."
Jason Lee, CEO of P.E.I. Seniors Homes, said staffing — and not just in nursing — is an issue in long-term care across the Island. Some employees have retired, others have left P.E.I. to work in other provinces, and the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the arrival of immigrants who make up a lot of the workforce.
"Everything has changed, it seems, over the past two years," he said.
Series of misfortunes
A series of misfortunes contributed to the current situation. Chez-Nous had actually hired three nurses in 2019, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the new hires couldn't move to P.E.I., and went on to find other jobs.
A fire in January 2021, sidelined recruiting efforts again, as residents were displaced for months while the home was rebuilt.
For the past several months, Chez-Nous has searched across Canada and internationally for nurses, offering incentives and salaries competitive with those in the public sector.
That can be a tough sell for nurses who may be reluctant to give up seniority by switching jobs, and incentives offered by other provinces are difficult to match.
Lee said some staff at Whisperwood Villa in Charlottetown took jobs in Ontario after receiving "extremely large" signing bonuses to work as registered nurses.
'Can't blame them'
"I really can't blame them," he said. "They were willing to move and it was a really enticing incentive."
Theriault said they will try to work with the government to recruit nurses and maintain their licence for long-term care, but in the meantime they need to fill the rooms with community care patients.
It's disappointing for families who may see parents or grandparents move to another facility to finish their lives, she said.
"They could be 95, and all of a sudden they'll spend the last few years of their lives in a language that they may not understand. That's a very, very sad part."