N.S. long-term care home warns it may need military help if staffing shortage doesn't ease

·4 min read
A health worker prepares Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City, Philippines. Nova Scotia health-care workers have to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 30. (Aaron Favila/The Associated Press - image credit)
A health worker prepares Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City, Philippines. Nova Scotia health-care workers have to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 30. (Aaron Favila/The Associated Press - image credit)

A long-term care administrator in the Annapolis Valley says resignations have increased as the vaccine mandate approaches, worsening an already acute staffing shortage.

Menna MacIsaac, the CEO of Grand View Manor in Berwick, N.S., said her facility has lost 13 staff members to resignations over the past three weeks.

"Some of them resigned because of the stress of working in long-term care right now," MacIsaac said in an interview. "And some of them did resign because of not wanting to be vaccinated."

Another three staff members are unvaccinated and will have to go on leave once the province's mandatory vaccination policy for health-care workers comes into effect, MacIsaac said. Workers have until Nov. 30 to provide proof they've received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Grand View Manor, which is home to about 140 residents, requires about 150 workers to fill the schedule each week.

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

Asking families to fill in

Because of the staffing shortage, the home has asked designated caregivers "to take on a more active part in resident care."

"Assistance with meals, mobility and personal care will significantly contribute [to] the wellbeing of our residents," the home's management team wrote in a memo to families last week.

MacIsaac said she's grateful that many designated caregivers have taken up the call, allowing trained staff to focus more on clinical care. But, she said, it isn't a long-term solution.

Grand View Manor is looking to hire to replace the staff it has lost, and to cover for several stress-related leaves of absence.

MacIsaac said vacancies include licensed practical nurses, continuing care assistants and registered nurses. She said the positions are posted on multiple online job boards, and administration is working with immigration agencies to recruit internationally.

Underlying issues: Wages, staff ratios and training

The vaccine mandate has exacerbated the staffing crunch for Grand View Manor, but MacIsaac said she still supports the policy.

"We're serving a very vulnerable population and I don't want a tragedy."

She pointed to three issues as the foundation of a staffing shortage that has been building across Nova Scotia's long-term care sector since before the pandemic. Like many others in the sector, MacIsaac said the provincial government needs to raise wages, especially for continuing care assistants, and increase the ratio of staff to residents.

MacIsaac also said she'd like to see more seats added to the Nova Scotia Community College's LPN program, which routinely has a wait-list. At some NSCC locations, the wait can be several years.

Grand View Manor is among a growing number of long-term care homes that are closed to new admissions because they don't have the staff to support more residents. Grand View closed admissions about two weeks ago and has one open bed, MacIsaac said.

A call for military help

She said she's pleased with some recent steps the province has taken to address long-term care staffing, including a plan to hire recruiters.

"I do think, though, that we're probably going to get to a point where we need a more strategic response. Like maybe we need military personnel who have health-care backgrounds to assist or something of that nature, if the situation gets worse than it currently is."

She said the province has offered a five per cent budget top-up for homes to overhire for the next six months, but for her facility, that offer misses the mark .

"We have enough budget that we could hire people, but there are no people — limited people, I should say — actually applying for these jobs."

CBC
CBC

Barbara Adams, the minister of seniors and long-term care, said earlier this month that her department would be contacting all 133 care homes to assess their needs as the vaccine mandate deadline approaches.

She said the province would come up with individualized contingency plans for homes that need help, which could include bringing in workers from other provinces.

MacIsaac said she hasn't heard anything about a contingency plan, yet, but she would welcome having outside help at Grand View.

As of Nov. 24, the last time the province provided an update, 95 per cent of long-term care workers were fully vaccinated and four per cent were partially vaccinated, with 97 per cent reporting.

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