Resident blames understaffing for troubles at long-term care home

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on October 9, 2013
Pauline Porter has been a resident of the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex for the past six months. She said she’s concerned staffing levels at the long-term care facility aren’t enough to meet the needs of residents. — Photo by Bonnie Belec/The Telegram

Pauline Porter says staffing levels at a long-term care facility in St. John’s are creating a dangerous situation for residents.
Living at the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex for the past six months, the retired licensed practical nurse said she fears it’s only going to get worse if the provincial government doesn’t stop cutbacks and do something to increase staffing levels at the facility.

“I was a victim of it twice,” Porter told The Telegram Wednesday.

“I’ve been over-medicated twice this summer. The first time it was a very high dose. Then I was given another resident’s medication along with my own because they are trying to rush through their work.

“This is what happens when they don’t have enough staff to do what they need to do,” Porter told The Telegram Tuesday.

The 61-year-old, who suffers from chronic pain, said it isn’t the fault of casual staff or nurses on the units, both of which she said are in short supply. Porter lays the blame at the feet of the government and Eastern Health.

“It’s impossible for them to do everything when there is never a full staff complement,” said Porter.

“So that means someone has to be last to get their medications and someone has to be last to get out of bed if they need help, because there’s not enough staff to do it all, and it all comes down to the almighty dollar,” Porter said.

Concerns about the care residents at the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex are receiving were raised in The Weekend Telegram when Ken Kavanagh, whose elderly mother is also a resident there, 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 have said none of the issues raised about the long-term care facility are as a result of cutbacks in health care.

Alice Kennedy, vice-president of long-term care with Eastern Health, told The Telegram Tuesday that staffing levels are based on a model of care designed around residents’ needs, and every effort is made to ensure that model is met, but it can be challenging.

“We have all of our permanent, full-time positions filled. Relief staff is a challenge, but we are recruiting and trying to fill those temporary positions,” said Kennedy.

“We are working to hire more relief staff and we do have a significant number of relief staff already, but unfortunately we don’t have enough to meet the demands when we have high rates of absenteeism and leave. Unfortunately, even though we do have a fairly large number of relief staff in some homes, it is still not adequate when you have peaks in absenteeism,” she said.

The president of the union representing some of the workers at long-term care facilities told The Telegram Monday Eastern Health should give more people permanent status, which would make it easier to hire and retain employees.

“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,’” said Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees.

Kennedy said in the case of Hoyles-Escasoni, there is a temporary float pool used to fill in for people who are off on extended leave with schedules, and there is also a pool of people to fill in for short-term leave calls.

“We try wherever possible, when we know we give staff a schedule, but if you get half a dozen sick leave calls you have to have a pool to respond to that short-term leave,” she said.

On Monday, Furlong also said Eastern Health has a policy of not replacing the first person off on leave.

Kennedy said it’s not a policy as such.

“We do not have a policy of not replacing. We do try to replace. When we have difficulties getting people in to provide relief that is something we do, and we have had discussions with the union around this, and when we absolutely can’t get anyone one in, and all of the relief staff are utilized, they are replaced at overtime rates and replaced,” she said.

On top of these staffing issues, Furlong said the union found out that some of the staff at Hoyles-Escasoni are being loaned to another long-term home in St. John’s.

When asked about it Wednesday, Kennedy said it has happened when administration is left with no other options.

“We have several occasions where staff from Hoyles-Escasoni have been shared with another long-term care facility,” she said, adding the facility is also managed by Hoyles-Escasoni.

“And it was only done when there was absolutely no alternative to get staffing to provide coverage at that other site. The Hoyles-Escasoni was not left short staffed to provide staff there. I’m aware of one occasion where the Hoyles-Escasoni site was short as well,  but the decision had to be made by management looking at both sites as to what was the best way to ensure care could be provided safely at both sites,” Kennedy said.

Originally from the Northern Peninsula, Porter spent two years at the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex in the early 2000s following major back surgery. She worked in Ontario for 21 years before returning home a few years ago. Her mother became ill and was placed at the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex where she died last year.

“Mom was there for two years, and I noticed a difference even from when I was in 10 or 12 years ago, but the staffing issues weren’t as bad when mom was here than it is now,” Porter said.

“Now it’s my God, it’s dangerous. It is a danger zone. I can’t stress it enough. Both the Department of Health and administration need to do something before they got a disaster on their hands,” she said.

bbelec@thetelegram.com