Long-term care homes in Interior Health region face staffing shortages under new COVID-19 order - InfoNews

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Long-term care homes in Interior Health region face staffing shortages under new COVID-19 order

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April 16, 2020 - 6:30 PM

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order that workers in long-term care homes can only work at a single site may be problematic because of chronic staff shortages in the Interior Health region.

Efforts have been underway in the Lower Mainland for about three weeks to put the single-site plan in place but it was just mandated for the rest of the province last week. In her daily COVID-19 update yesterday, April 15, Henry said she expected the change to be complete in a week or two.

“Our concern as an organization has been — particularly when it comes to the Interior and the Okanagan — we are very concerned about staff shortages,” Mike Klassen, vice-president of public affairs for the B.C. Care Providers Association, told iNFOnews.ca. “We have repeatedly been talking about the need in trying to find more people to work in this sector.”

The association represents about 70 per cent of the privately-owned long term care facilities in B.C., he said.

Klassen is worried that taking away the ability of people to work in multiple locations could leave some facilities even shorter staffed than they are today.

Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie recently told iNFOnews, that a lot of care home staff work more than 40 hours a week in multiple care homes. Some are working as many as 60 hours, she said.

Under the new system, they will be restricted to one facility so those extra 20 hours a week would then be lost to the second facility.

Interior Health could not provide a count of how many people work in long-term care facilities in the region. It did say there are 5,743 permanent and 321 short-stay care beds in the region and 108 long-term care homes.

Mackenzie said there are roughly 300 such facilities in B.C. with about 20,000 workers.

About 4,200 of those staff members work in more than one facility and 917 are in the Interior Health region, Klassen said.

The two Lower Mainland health authorities ordered the single-site rule be implemented a couple of weeks ago and was not a strategy Interior Health followed.

“We don’t have any long-term care homes that are impacted by COVID,” Susan Brown, Interior Health’s president and CEO told iNFOnews.ca on April 7. “The other piece that we would need to be clear on is: would that make a difference? If you did work in a long-term facility and one other place, would that actually cause COVID to go into a long term care facility?”

She did say Interior Health was doing some preliminary work, just in case a provincial order came down – which it did the next day.

Klassen doesn’t know where extra staff will come from if there are shortages in the region.

His organization has been lobbying both the federal and provincial governments for some time to, for example, make it easier for foreigners are Canadians from other provinces to qualify to work in B.C.

Vancouver Island, the Interior and the North are all “pressure points” for staff shortages, he said.

“That’s why we declared, last spring, a health human resources emergency in the Okanagan and asked for extraordinary help from the province to help deal with it,” Klassen said.

That doesn’t seem to have made much of a change.

The association’s past president, Karen Baillie, will represent the association on a new advisory committee on the single-site staffing process but they won’t meet until next week.

Go here to view the B.C. Care Providers Association's heat map of staffing shortages in the province.


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