In the News April 28
April 28 Day of Mourning
Rhonda Bruce, Health Care Worker
Rhonda Bruce is an Rehabilitation Assistant and a Shop Steward for the Hospital Employees Union in BC.
In terms of health and safety issues in health care I would have to say that the system is on the brink of collapse and it shows in the stress and distress of health care workers. I work in long-term care. The staff shortages that we experienced before the pandemic are much worse now. Care Aides, nurses, rehabilitation and recreation staff are all unable to provide the care that residents need because we do not have enough workers. Every “solution” implemented by management that does not address that problem makes everything worse.
Care aides are leaving in droves because of the working conditions. They can’t take the stress any more. So we have a lot of new workers. I’ll give you the example of the bath team. That team has several new workers and when you’re new you don’t have the routine established, you haven’t figured out how to multitask and get all the things done so they are overwhelmed. Management’s solution was to lessen their workload by re-assigning baths for two residents every day to the Care Aides working on the floors. On the day shift each Care Aide looks after eight residents and on the afternoon shift each Care Aide looks after 10 residents. On lunch and rest breaks Care Aides have to cover for each other and if someone is absent they may not be replaced so the Care Aides have more residents to look after. To add bathing a resident when we are already short-staffed has just moved the problem not solved it. The usual response when we raise these problems with managers is “you just have to get it done.”
More and more what is happening is workers are just walking away, quitting or going casual or looking for work in the private long-term care homes. It’s ironic that 25 years ago the best jobs in terms of pay and benefits were in the public sector. Now, to attract workers the private long-term care operators are offering higher pay and benefits and we are losing staff. Their funding comes from the government just like the funding for the public homes so it makes you wonder whether the pressure on the public system is intentional to push privatization.
One of the consequences of working short-staffed is that there are more injuries. I have heard workers say that they are leaving before they get seriously injured and are never able to work again. For nurses chronic short staffing means that if you reach the end of your shift, eight hours or 12 hours, and no one comes to relieve you you have to stay. Besides your responsibility to the residents your licence requires it. I know of a situation where a nurse worked 36 hours straight. So lots of nurses are walking away from their permanent positions in order to have some control over their lives. Most of the workers I work with have used up all their sick time now, just coping with the injuries and mental stress.
One of the biggest problems is the mental stress of knowing what care needs to be given and not being able to give it. That is driving a lot of workers away. In my region the list of jobs posted publically, that is the jobs that were posted internally and had no applicants, used to be about a page long. Now it is about eight pages. Recently there was a newspaper report that Interior Health Authority has offered a signing bonus of $10,000 to attract staff to work in the labs but that doesn’t address the need for higher wages and stable working conditions which is the only long-term solution to the problem of recruitment and retention. You can read the article, here.
Another example of measures that are taken that address a problem but don’t provide the solution is the reduction in prescriptions of anti-psychotic drugs to residents. The Seniors Advocate identified a problem of drugs being prescribed without a diagnosis of a condition that warranted them, just to make people more calm, and that practice has been reduced. We agree with that but if you do that you have to have more staff and it was done without hiring more staff which has only caused more harm to residents and workers.
A program that was started last year to increase the number of Care Aides through a government-funded education program, the Health Career Access Program, has helped somewhat, but a lot of the workers that entered that program came from other parts of the health care system, cooks and cleaners for example, which increases the shortages in those jobs.
We have been advocating for solutions and we need the employer, which is the government of BC, to listen to us and implement those solutions. We need more staff. The educational system has to be expanded to train more. We need wages and working conditions that support workers to do their jobs so they will stay. The solutions are not hard. They just have to invest in the system and the workers.
Workers’ Forum, posted April 28, 2022.