Every Monday, JJ Dray’s mother looks forward to her weekly bath.
He said she’s been living at a long-term care facility in St. John’s for almost two years, but has never missed her regulary scheduled soak every Monday.
That is up until between the end of August and early September, Dray said, when a tub on her unit at Hoyles-Escasoni Complex broke and she missed two baths in a row.
“It’s possible and it happened. I swear on a stack, that did 100 per cent happen,” he told The Telegram Monday.
“This particular week, seven days came and went and Mom didn’t get her bath. At least for Mom it’s every Monday. I don’t know about the rest of the unit. Yes, I complained. In my view, I said, it was unacceptable, and was told it wouldn’t happen again. I wasn’t told why. I assume it was because the tub was broke — it still is — and there’s not enough staff,” said Dray. He said she finally got a bath 10 days later.
Dray said before this happened he had hoped to request that his mother have two baths a week, especially during the summer, but he didn’t want to add more pressure to the already overworked staff.
Concerns about the care residents at Hoyles Escasoni are receiving were raised in The Weekend Telegram when Ken Kavanagh, whose elderly mother is also a resident at Hoyles-Escasoni, said he was angry because his mother was fed spaghettios as a meal and she was being left in bed for hours before staff were getting her up, cleaned and dressed for the day.
Health Minister Susan Sullivan and Eastern Health touched on the issue, saying it wasn’t as a result of recent cutbacks.
Eastern Health has saved more than $22 million in the first quarter of the 2013-14 fiscal year (to June 30, 2013) through operational improvement initiatives, and its efforts will be followed by the other regional health authorities in the province — Central Health, Western Health and Labrador-Grenfell Health, Sullivan announced Thursday.
She told The Telegram Friday, however, that has nothing to do with complaints about the food and patient care.
“My concern is there seems to be accusations that this was tied to announcements we made about the operational improvement process (Thursday), and I can assure you they are not, and this really and truly has nothing to do with the improvement plans whatsoever,” Sullivan said.
However, she said Eastern Health is experiencing challenges in terms of requisite numbers of staff on a shift, and that is due to leave and some recruitment issues.
“It’s not surprising they have retention and recruitment issues,” said Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), which represents some of the workers in long-term care facilities.
“We have been lobbying for quite some time for Eastern Health to give people permanent status. They’re hiring people and giving them temporary status, which means those individuals are expected to be at home by their phones, on standby day and night, never knowing when they’re working. And after a while, people say, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,’” she said.
Furlong said there have been complaints about staff not having enough time to get their work done.
“They’re telling me it’s taking them a lot longer to get people out of bed, longer to feed people, longer to get their work done. They’re telling me that, but I’ve never had anyone say to me its taking me (10) days to give someone a bath,” she said.
Furlong said the policy at Eastern Health of not replacing the first person off on leave is also creating a tough situation for staff.
On top of that, she said the union has found out that some of the staff at Hoyles Escasoni are being lent to another long-term home in St. John’s.
“We are aware that at another long-term facility here in town, when they go short they can’t get a replacement, so they’re taking them from the Hoyles Escasoni Complex, bringing them over to the other site, leaving the Hoyles short,” she said.
“So we have that issue going on, and of course when you’re operating short staffed and trying to pick up the slack, it becomes increasingly more difficult for people to get their regular workload done. And were not talking about inanimate objects. We’re talking about people, sick people, people who are lonely, elderly, many who have dementia and all kinds of issues that require a lot of care. But the government has told Eastern Health they have to cut $50 million from their budget and they’re going to do it without impacting patient care,” said Furlong.
“Either they have absolutely no idea of what is going on around them or they are clearly out of touch with reality because it is having an impact. It’s having an impact on the poor woman who’s waiting and dependent on someone to get her out of bed, to get her to a washroom, to get her to the bath. It’s having an impact on staff who say, ‘I haven’t even got to Mrs. Jones today.’”
In a statement to The Telegram Monday, Eastern Health said it determines its staffing levels in long-term care facilities based on the hours of care provided on a unit. The hours of care and number of staff varies depending on the type and complexity of care required by the residents on the unit.
Its daily average hours of nursing care per resident is 3.38 hours. For example, the statement says, on a 30-bed unit this may mean about six staff would work daytime shifts, and three staff would work the night shift, to ensure the resident is provided with their required daily average hours of nursing care.
“Eastern Health acknowledges that there are times when nursing units within a long-term care facility may not have adequate numbers of staff with regards to the recommended hours of care, because there are no staff available to call in or work overtime shifts,” said the authority.
“Eastern Health does not have a shortage of permanent, full-time workers within long-term care facilities, and a pool of temporary workers to help cover vacation time and planned leave; however the program does struggle to recruit and retain temporary call-in staff to cover unanticipated leave, such as sick days.”
Dray said his mother has several health issues, but at 63 years of age she’s still able to get around.
He said aside from only having a bath once every seven days, her biggest complaint is the lack of fresh food offered at Hoyles Escasoni.
Dray said it took him nine months to get salad added to his mother’s diet plan three times a week, and aside from the occasional banana, there’s isn’t much fresh fruit to be seen.
“I went out yesterday and they had cooked dinner for them. There is a lot of good that goes on there, and the staff that are there, the frontline workers are absolutely fabulous. I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for them,” he said.
NDP Health Critic Gerry Rogers, MHA for St. John’s Centre, told The Telegram Monday she’s hearing the same things.
“I’ve been visiting families and residents in long-term care and they all talk of how caring the staff are, but one woman told me if someone calls in sick and there’s no replacement, she doesn’t get out of bed and it has happened a number of times,” said Rogers.
She said the government has created the situation that it makes it difficult to recruit staff when the ones they have are so overburdened.