Long-term care study to shed light on working conditions for staff

·3 min read
A staff member at an Ontario long-term care home is pictured wearing full personal protective equipment amid an outbreak among the residents. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A staff member at an Ontario long-term care home is pictured wearing full personal protective equipment amid an outbreak among the residents. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The lead researcher on a new study looking at working conditions in long–term care homes in Nova Scotia says she wants to shed new light on the "unsung heroes" in the facilities, and improve the conditions for those who live there.

Janice Keefe, director for the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, has been awarded a grant from Nova Scotia Health to interview employees in at least eight homes in the province and examine their work life.

Her hope is that this will act as a type of pilot project which could identify best practices that could be applied across the Atlantic region.

"I know many of them are feeling a bit overwhelmed," said Keefe of the staff.

"They've been holding it together for so long during this pandemic. This is an opportunity to provide some evidence about the value of the work that these individuals are doing for us as a society."

The project will mirror similar research in Alberta that actually began before the pandemic.

Worker experiences

Keefe says while it would have been ideal to have a before-and-after comparison, she's happy to be able to take this on.

Keefe and two other investigators will hand out surveys or conduct interviews with all the staff who volunteer to be a part of the study, from continuing care assistants to managers.

She says the eight homes that have signed up to participate extend to each corner of the province, and include public and private nursing homes.

"So we get a sense of what is the experience of the workers, and that will be very useful, I think, to be able to understand issues around recruitment, and particularly retention."

Janice Keefe says she's thrilled to be able to examine the working conditions of staff in long-term care homes in an effort to come up with recommendations on how to make improvements.
Janice Keefe says she's thrilled to be able to examine the working conditions of staff in long-term care homes in an effort to come up with recommendations on how to make improvements. (CBC)

Among the issues she wants to identify are support systems, job satisfaction, workload and burnout.

She says the Alberta project has been able to link those working conditions to the wellbeing of the residents, which is what she would ultimately like to come of this study.

"They can actually show that if you're in an environment in a long term care facility that is doing better around context or quality of work–life, the resident outcomes are also higher, or better I would say."

'Underfunded, under-researched'

Keefe has been vocal about the conditions of homes during the last year, especially when the Northwood long-term care facility became the epicentre of the virus during the first wave. Hundreds became ill, and 53 residents died.

"Personally, I feel that long-term care has been unrecognized, underfunded, under-researched and unfortunately COVID has put a real spotlight on all of those cracks," she said.

Keefe said she's impressed that eight homes have already signed on, and are encouraging their staff to participate. She says that shows an eagerness in the industry to make changes.

"That's where we all want to get to. We want to have good quality of care, and good quality of life for the residents. This is another way to be able to support that."

Northwood's long term care facility in Halifax was the epicentre of COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.
Northwood's long term care facility in Halifax was the epicentre of COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.(Robert Short/CBC)

Keefe and her colleagues will first have their questions approved by an ethics board, and hope to begin talking to staff in the summer.

The grant from the Nova Scotia Health Research Fund gives her a 15-month window to complete the research.

She hopes to be ready to present their findings by the spring of 2022.

Keefe said she's thrilled by the opportunity, and sees this investigation as just the beginning of something that could bring significant change for homes across the region.

"That's why I'm so excited, because it gives the families hope."

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