Administrators are struggling daily to maintain staffing levels at the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex in St. John’s.
Eight to 10 people call in sick daily, and on top of that, the long-term care facility has about 100 staff off on long-term leave such as workers’ compensation, maternity leave and extended sick leave, The Telegram has learned.
According to Eastern Health, during the 2012-13 fiscal year the health authority spent $1.17 million on sick leave, $1.05 million in sick leave relief and $520,000 in overtime (of which the majority is related to sick leave relief).
Alice Kennedy, vice-president of long-term care with Eastern Health, told The Telegram Tuesday that while Hoyles-Escasoni’s permanent, full-time positions are filled, relief staff is where the challenge lies.
“We have been replacing staff. Obviously, with overtime, we try to manage as much as possible, but the issues we have at times not being able to get relief staff is not related to cutbacks,” she said.
“Our staffing levels are approved. We have all of our core positions filled.
“It’s a challenge for us to be able to have enough relief staff to meet the increased demands put on us by the increase issues with attendance, and our attendance at times, our absenteeism, is very high, and that is what causes us difficulty in being able to replace on those occasions,” said Kennedy.
Residents and family members of the complex, which has 375 long-term care beds, have reached out to The Telegram this week to express concerns about over medication, lack of care and unsatisfactory food at the facility, and they blame cutbacks which they say have resulted in staff shortages.
Ken Kavanagh led the way when he complained about his 84-year-old mother being fed spaghettios for supper. He said while he wasn’t impressed with the sugary, starchy food choice, his concerns were more about his mother not being helped out of bed after being there for more than 14 hours by 11:30 a.m. at different times.
The spaghettios meal was just the breaking point. He said he heard Health Minister Susan Sullivan on the news talking about how Eastern Health is saving money — about $22 million this fiscal year— through a series of initiatives while not affecting patient care.
Eastern Health and Sullivan have said the staffing issue at Hoyles-Escasoni is not related to those initiatives and has more to do with the recruitment and retention of staff.
Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) which represents some of the workers at the facility, has a piece of advice for both — “it would cost them less to bring people in and pay them at straight time then to get them in and pay them overtime rates. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that out.”
She told The Telegram Wednesday there are about 600 staff at the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex, and when you consider that eight to 10 people call in sick daily, it is less than two per cent, “in an environment where staff is exposed to disease, injury and — hopefully are not allowed to come to work when you have a transferrable illness — they’re working extra overtime which is tiring you out, and you’re working short staffed. So what do you expect?
Furlong said work is probably making them sick.
“Some of that is conducive to becoming sick. I wonder if some of this, excluding the maternity leave, isn’t a symptom of the environment they’re working in. It may very well be a product of that environment. As I understand most of the injuries are back and strain — and the solution for that is to have more staff.”
On top of these staffing issues, Furlong told The Telegram Monday, the union found out some of the staff at Hoyles-Escasoni are being loaned to another long-term home in St. John’s.
When asked about it Tuesday, 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.
Furlong said Wednesday the union met with Eastern Health about the issue Tuesday. She said the authority is going post an offer for overtime for anyone who is willing to work at the other site.
“It is a short-term solution, because when staff get back to their own shift, they haven’t had a day off. At the end of the day, if you talk to people in health care they will tell you, ‘I managed to get a day off, but my phone didn’t stop ringing,’ or, ‘I worked overtime and then I came in to do my own shift,’ and in the end none of that helps,” said Furlong.
According to information from Eastern Health, the Hoyles-Escasoni Complex has 247.4 core full-time-equivalent positions which are: 32.2 registered nurses (RNs), 111.6 licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and 103.6 personal care attendants (PCAs).
It has temporary call-in staff used to replace short-term leave requests, which includes 24 RNs, 17 LPNs and 56 PCAs.
It also has a temporary, full-time float staff including five RNs, 51 LPNs and 19 PCAs. These employees are used to replace staff on extended leave.
There is a need for another 22 temporary staff (two RNS, 11 LPNS and nine PCAs) to replace both daily recall and recent staff turnover.