Staffing shortages cause admissions halt at 25 Nova Scotia nursing homes

·3 min read

HALIFAX — More than two dozen Nova Scotia nursing homes have halted admissions because of ongoing staffing shortages complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katelyn Randell, director of long-term care, told the legislature's health committee Tuesday that 25 of the province's 133 nursing homes are not accepting new admissions as they address what she called "staffing gaps."

Randell didn't say how many workers were missing, explaining that the numbers change almost daily.

"For some (homes) they are closing just for a couple of weeks knowing that they are taking on board new staff and that it takes time to orientate," she said. "For others it's a little bit longer where they have bigger gaps."

Randell said the Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care is working with the facilities to help bolster staffing and has assigned more than 19 short-term replacement nurses to help at various homes.

She said there are currently 1,800 people on the province's waiting list for a long-term care bed.

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, said the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant of novel coronavirus has made a "bad situation even worse" when it comes to staffing in long-term care homes.

"Nurses need to see a plan and need immediate relief," Hazelton told the committee.

She said that staff-to-patient ratios haven't changed since 1989. She called on the Progressive Conservative government to follow through on a promise from last year's election campaign to provide 4.1 hours of care per resident per day. Currently residents are expected to receive 2.45 hours of care.

Paul LaFleche, the department's deputy minister, said legislation to set the new standard is being prepared and it's hoped a bill will be tabled during the spring session of the legislature.

However, LaFleche cautioned that a change in the hours of care is still "staff dependent."

"My understanding is that we are OK to fund facilities to 4.1 hours if they can get there given the staff they have available," he said. "Now remember, we are short several hundred staff around the system so it's not easy ... even if you have the budget."

Meanwhile, health officials reported one new death as a result of novel coronavirus on Tuesday — a man in his 80s in the Halifax area.

"It is tragic to see the virus take another life, especially when we know we can prevent this from happening, Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said in a news release. "To everyone, please use this as a reminder to get vaccinated, wear a mask and reduce your social interactions to keep Omicron from spreading."

Officials also reported 15 new hospital admissions and 16 discharges, bringing the total number of people in hospital due to an infection to 58, with four patients in intensive care.

The province confirmed an additional 616 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and an estimated 6,796 active cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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