'Many' health-care workers working at more than one nursing home during pandemic, says CUPE

·3 min read

Many health-care workers at nursing homes like Shannex's Tucker Hall in Saint John, where there is a COVID-19 outbreak, work at more than one facility, even during the pandemic, because they can't afford not to, says the national CUPE representative for Local 5446.

"Some of them hold jobs in multiple nursing homes. Some of them hold jobs in nursing homes and hospitals," said Tamara Elisseou.

Under provincial regulations, health-care workers cannot work at any facility where there's an outbreak and another facility at the same time, said Public Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

"It is not recommended" they work between long-term care facilities without outbreaks, he said.

But it does happen, according to Elisseou.

"Many of the members that work at Shannex do work more than one job at more than one facility," she said, blaming "precarious" work in the province.

The Department of Social Development would not agree to an interview with CBC News, but a spokesperson said in an email that staffing is a human resource issue and not its responsibility.

The workers can range from recreation assistants, who are at the bottom of the pay grade, earning $19.44 an hour, to licensed practical nurses, who are at the top, earning $27.16 an hour, she sad.

If they can't get permanent work in one facility, they have to look for work in multiple facilities to ensure they get the hours they need to pay their bills and support their families, Elisseou said.

Submitted by Tamara Elisseou
Submitted by Tamara Elisseou

"That's not unusual."

There are 16 confirmed cases at the Shannex Parkland community in Saint John, as of Thursday evening. The cases include five employees and 10 residents at Tucker Hall and one employee at Carleton Hall, an independent-living retirement building.

Another 25 employees are self-isolating because of the outbreak, which was declared on Nov. 20.

Employees and residents were retested Monday and Tuesday. Shannex said tests for all residents returned negative, with only one additional employee testing positive, according to a statement from the company.

CUPE is calling for the provincial government to provide administrative leave pay for health-care workers who are asked to self-isolate.

Elisseou said "a number" of its Shannex members have been isolating since Nov. 18, using up their sick pay, despite having "multiple" negative COVID-19 tests.

Google Maps
Google Maps

"What happens when they're cleared to return to work and they've used up all of their sick time in their sick leave bank and they get sick and they have no sick time left?

"They don't know how they're going to pay their bills if they can't go to work and they have no sick time. So that's concerning to many of our members," she said.

It's also "of grave concern" to the union. It wonders what will happen when a worker facing financial hardship begins to experience COVID-19 symptoms and has to make a choice between hiding their symptoms and going to work and being able to pay their bills or reporting their illness and staying home with no pay.

Offering the leave pay would prevent those sorts of circumstances from arising, said Elisseou.

"It affords protection to everybody in the province," she said.