Only half of needed LPNs and PCAs hired ahead of summer season

NAPE says workers at the long-term care facility in Pleasantville are overworked and understaffed — and Eastern Health agrees.

The health-care provider says staffers are being required to work overtime and recruitment numbers to cover annual leaves this summer are only half of what is needed.

"Certainly we would like to have more staff," said Judy O'Keefe, vice president of clinical services with Eastern Health, on the number of licensed practical nurses and personal care assistants working not only at Pleasant View Towers in St. John's but across Eastern Health's long-term care facilities.

In particular, O'Keefe said, there is a shortage of temporary LPNs and PCAs needed to fill in annual leave, sick leaves and other absences by permanent employees.

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Normally to cover summer leaves, Eastern Health would recruit 50 or 60 staffers. This year only 25 have been hired so far.

And last month, they had 25 staff members who had to work beyond a standard 12-hour shift, she said — a number that is concerning but not abnormal.

"We wanted to try and fill in all those gaps," said Debbie Molloy, vice president of corporate services with Eastern Health. 

"Unfortunately, we're not quite there."

'Breaking point'

The ongoing staffing issues at at Pleasant View Towers have reached a "breaking point," especially now that they have been told they may not be able to book annual leave this summer, said Jerry Earle, the president of NAPE.

"It's really reached a boiling point and staff there are less than pleased, I assure you," said Earle about conditions at the Pleasant View Towers, where NAPE employees protested outside Tuesday — though he added that the problems aren't limited to that one facility.

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There are staffers who have been told they can't have time off for a child's wedding or graduation, he said, and leave requests as far out as May 2020 have been denied.

Earle said he knows of one person who has 680 hours of leave banked because he has been unable to have requests granted to use it.

Restrictions on annual leave have been put in place because of anticipated staff shortages for LPNs and PCAs. O'Keefe said that the LPNs and PCAs take their jobs seriously and she understands why they are upset.

"We certainly understand their frustration and the stress that would go along with that," she said. 

"I think most of us would say that we look forward to our summer vacation."

But at Pleasant View Towers and other Eastern Health facilities, the need for employee absences must be balanced with the care needs of residents, she and Molloy both said.

"Having a healthy workplace is really important to us," said Molloy.

"We balance that with the care that we want to provide to patients."

'Very concerned'

Those residents can't get the level of care they need with the staff currently in place, said Leona Dubé, whose husband is a full-time resident at Pleasant View Towers.

Dubé, who is at the facility daily, said she sees a lot of sick leave, overwork and stress among its staffers. She believes that extends to the residents because it's hard to ensure their needs are being met in a timely fashion when there aren't enough hands to go around.

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"I'm very, very concerned, for everyone," she said.

The frustration outlined by Earle was on display Tuesday at Pleasant View Towers, where NAPE and staffers at the facility protested outside.

The problem was avoidable, according to Earle, he said he's been warning that this staffing shortage was coming for years and would continue if situations didn't improve.

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"I would suggest that if they had done their homework, right here in Newfoundland and Labrador we could have had appropriate people trained to meet the challenge we're facing today," he told the St. John's Morning Show Tuesday. Instead, he said, Eastern Health is recruiting in the United Kingdom and other places outside the province.

Eastern Health has advertised for staff not only nationally but internationally, Molloy said, in order to fill staffing shortages they saw coming.

They are open to talking with the union about creative solutions and other ideas to address staffing needs, she said, adding that there have been productive discussions so far.

In the meantime, Molloy said, Eastern Health is still recruiting in hopes of better coverage over the summer months. 

"We are trying, I guess, to tap into other sources where we can."

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