Workers at St. Luke’s and Agnes Pratt homes in St. John’s held a short demonstration Wednesday to draw attention to what they say are chronically low staffing levels at long-term care facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The workers — mostly licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and personal care attendants (PCAs) — say they frequently must deal with short-staffing and are constantly in dread of being called back into work during their time off.
About 25 of them attended the protest at Agnes Pratt Home. They wore masks and maintained physical distancing throughout.
“If there’s a breaking point, it’s beyond that breaking point, actually,” said Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), which represents the workers. “These staff are tired of being tired. They’re actually physically and mentally exhausted.”
Earle said workers should be able to relax when they’re not at work.
“If there’s a breaking point, it’s beyond that breaking point... These staff are tired of being tired." — NAPE president Jerry Earle
“When you have a day off, you’re expecting that mental, physical break, not to have your phone ringing,” he said. “And sometimes when you answer, then you’re actually mandated to come to work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic only added to the problem, he said, because residents’ sense of well-being often depends on teamwork between family members and staff.
“For a period of time there were no families in these facilities and we did not see additional resources to assist with resident care and support the residents. That in itself was a major challenge.”
Earle said it’s not good enough to say long-term care in Newfoundland and Labrador compares favourably with the rest of Canada, given the devastating reports that arose from the spread of COVID-19 in seniors' facilities in some provinces.
“You’ve seen what happened on the mainland,” he said. “That tells us there’s not sufficient numbers.”
The long-term solution is more training for LPNs and PCAs at community colleges around the province, Earle said.
In the short-term, he said, administrators need to listen to what the workers have to say.
“You need to talk to people who live those policies every day. If you talk to frontline staff, they will give you suggestions.”
Last month, the Royal Society of Canada issued a policy briefing on long-term care that called for stringent federal standards and funding to go with it.
The report’s nine recommendations included calls for the federal government to immediately implement a cross-Canada assessment of long-term care needs, and to establish national guidelines on staff training and ratios, as well as protocols for visitation during viral outbreaks.
It also called for better pay, benefits and hours for those working in seniors' facilities.
Provincial Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said at the time he would welcome Ottawa’s input.
“I think to go back to recognizing the needs of seniors from a fiscal, funding point of view at the federal level as different from the likes of you and I would be a huge improvement for us, but also a significant sea change for the feds,” he said.
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for The Telegram