Staff at Extendicare facilities say they are in the dark as SHA takeover approaches

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Regina's Extendicare Elmview is one of five facilities that will soon be under the control of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Regina's Extendicare Elmview is one of five facilities that will soon be under the control of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

The union representing many workers at five Extendicare facilities in Saskatchewan says the provincial government is not providing enough information about how it plans to transition operations when it takes over next month.

"The updates that staff have got to date have been fairly vague, I think is the kindest way to put it," said SEIU-West president Barbara Cape.

The government announced on Sept. 1 it would be taking control of all Extendicare facilities in Saskatchewan as of Oct. 9.

Cape said the union is not interested in the cost of the takeovoer. It is more concerned with how day-to-day operations will took, so the union wants a sit-down with the government and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

"We're talking about what's going to happen to my job, what's going to happen in terms of policies and procedures," she said. "How is scheduling going to be done? Who is in charge right now? Those are pretty fundamental questions that people are asking and they are not getting a lot of answers."

Cape said the union's position is "that the Saskatchewan Employment Act tells me that these folks are going to have a job and I'm going to hold the government to that."

"Ultimately this is about providing that kind of care to a pretty vulnerable population, and our staff can do it but they need the support of a really strong management team and right now, who the heck is that?"

In August 2021, the SHA and Extendicare entered into a co-management of its five Saskatchewan facilities.

The following October the government announced it was severing ties with the private health-care provider.

On Sept. 1, the SHA said it will "assume responsibility for the collective bargaining units and unionized employees as of the transition date and will make offers of employment to non-unionized Extendicare employees transferring to the SHA."

On Wednesday, Opposition critic for seniors Matt Love asked the government to provide more details of the takeover.

"There's no financial information. There's no staffing information. There's no facility information. We don't know what this transition is going to look like, and that's a huge, huge red flag for me."

Improve outbreak reporting

Love says the provincial government needs to be more transparent in reporting details of COVID-19 outbreaks after all 46 permanent residents of Regina's Extendicare Elmview tested positive this month.

Love sent a letter to the Minister Responsible for Seniors on Wednesday asking questions about the outbreak and the government's response.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has a list of outbreaks in long-term care available on the government's website but Love took exception to the fact the extent of the Elmview outbreak was initially shared by the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and not the SHA or government: "If this government was serious about addressing the pandemic they would have transparency."

On Tuesday, the SHA confirmed three residents who tested positive at Elmview had died. However, the cause of death has not been confirmed.

As of Thursday, 14 staff who tested positive were isolating and there were seven active cases, while 39 residents have recovered.

"Currently, many of the residents who are positive either have very mild symptoms or are entirely asymptomatic," the SHA said in an email.

The SHA said Thursday all residents at Elmview had two doses of vaccine and a "vast majority" had received third and fourth doses.

Extendicare has a full vaccination policy for staff and all staff members are "fully vaccinated," according to the SHA.

Cape says there are questions about how the outbreak became so widespread.

"What was the fail point? Was it visitors coming in? Was it a lack of PPE? But we don't do contact tracing anymore, so I don't think we are ever going to know the answer," said Cape, who before becoming SEIU-West president worked as a cook at Extendicare Parkside.

As of Thursday, the three Extendicare homes in Regina are listed as outbreak locations.

The SHA said Thursday that 31 residents and 11 staff are currently positive at Parkside. Since the outbreak was declared on Aug. 19, 94 of 158 residents have tested positive and 63 have recovered.

According to the government, there are more than 30 active outbreaks at long-term care and personal care homes in the province.

Administrator who ran Parkside during COVID outbreak, now at Elmview

In 2020 and 2021, Extendicare Parkside was the site of a major COVID-19 outbreak, which saw 194 of 198 residents and 132 staff test positive. Ultimately 39 residents who tested positive died.

Dan Shiplack, who was the administrator at Extendicare Parkside during that time, is now in the same position at Elmview.

Cape says the fact that Shiplack was at Parkside and now at Elmview is irrelevant.

"I would not say that because Dan Shiplack was at one location that was in outbreak and now he's at the other one. I don't think he has a responsibility there."

Cape says the uncertainty about the takeover could be creating a leadership vacuum.

"Do we have a consistent leader in each of these locations, someone who's going to be there for the long run, who's not looking for, you know, what their next gig is but dealing in the here and now?"

The SHA said Thursday that it and "Extendicare are committed to maintaining consistent, safe, and high-quality resident care. We cannot comment on individual personnel matters."

Richard Agecoutay/CBC
Richard Agecoutay/CBC

Cape says she thinks workers at the Extendicare facilities have been "scrutinized more than most."

"Over the last year, they have continued to come to work, do just a bang-up job to take care of their residents and their families and make sure that people are safe."

The outbreak at Parkside in 2020 and 2021 resulted in a report and series of recommendations by provincial Ombudsman Mary McFadyen.

She found Extendicare Parkside was "woefully unprepared" for the outbreak and said Extendicare's local and regional managers resisted following the proper rules "apparently, it seems, for no good reason."

On Thursday, Extendicare referred questions about operations to the SHA.

"Extendicare accepted all recommendations made by the Ombudsman. We refer any questions related to long-term care in Saskatchewan to the SHA for comment," Extendicare said in an emailed statement.