Moncton nursing home can't open new beds until staffing in place, province says

Despite the recent completion of its expansion, a nursing home in Moncton cannot open any of it 60 new beds to patients until it gets staffing in place, a provincial government spokesperson says.

"Villa du Repos is currently working on a recruitment plan for staff," Anne Mooers, a communications officer for Social   Development, said Thursday in an email statement. "The 126 beds currently in use at Villa du Repos are at 100 per cent occupancy."

Mooers referred a follow-up question about the number of staff members the home requires to the head of Villa du Repos. CBC tried again Thursday to reach the executive director, following two voicemail messages earlier this week, and still hasn't received a response.

This staffing shortage is important given that, according to the province's numbers, nursing homes in New Brunswick have a 98 per cent occupancy rate. The head of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions said there are some 500 senior citizens — many of whom are occupying hospital beds — waiting to get into nursing homes.

"It's great to add beds, but if you don't have the staff to look after the residents in these homes, that's a problem," said Wayne Brown, who represents workers at 45 homes across the province as council president.

Doctor speaks out

A family doctor in Moncton, Dr. John Li, said the delay at Villa du Repos affects one of his patients who has been in the hospital since Jan. 12, 2016.

"We were excited about the opening of the new wing, because that would take quite a bit of pressure off both hospitals,"  Dr. Li said. "I think both Moncton and George Dumont Hospital had people waiting to go in there."

This particular "alternate level of care" patient was supposed to move into Villa du Repos in October or November of last year, but the nursing home postponed that date multiple times, saying the patient's bed wasn't ready.

With contacts at the home, Dr. Li found out that a staffing shortage was preventing the home from opening the expanded area of its facility. He said he informed the patient's family.

"I don't think anyone (from the home) really officially told the daughter," Dr. Li said.

For the time being the patient is "lingering" in the hospital and doesn't yet have a firm move-in date.

A two-part problem

Dr. Li suggested there are two parts to the staffing problem.

First, he said, there aren't enough programs at the New Brunswick Community College or Oulton College to graduate the number of professionals required to fill these positions.

Second, nursing homes are competing against other employers — home care agencies, for example — that might pay higher wagers or offer better working conditions for LPNs and PSWs. 

"So, sometimes people may pick the easier jobs, rather than the heavy demands in a nursing home," he said.

New French nursing home to open

Meanwhile, a senior's complex will open this year on the University of Moncton's research and development campus. In addition to special care and assisted living rooms, the facility will also include a 60-bed nursing home.

"Right now, we don't have enough to open up the new wing at Villa du Repos," Dr. Li said. "How are they going to get enough people to open up the huge senior care complex across from U de M?"

The complex is a joint undertaking of the university, the province and Shannex RLC limited.

The regional director for Shannex NB hasn't returned a call from CBC.

A worsening problem

The president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions said the sector has struggled for years to recruit and retain staff — and the problem is getting worse, as many licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and resident assistants (RAs) switch to the  hospital sector due to the workload issue in long-term care. 

This is true of the recent graduates from both NBCC and Oulton College.

The staffing shortage fluctuates based on the month and the individual nursing home, Wayne Brown said. "There's homes, many homes, each day that work short-staffed." 

This not only causes workplace burnout and injuries, and increases the rates of violence in the workplace, but "the residents are not provided with the care that they need and rightly deserve."

The council is advocating for additional resources from the province for long-term care.