Group home closes as oil boom creates worker crunch
An oil boom on Canada's Prairies has created problems for at least one rural Manitoba group home, which closed due to a shortage of employees.
The group home in Boissevain, Man. cared for people with intellectual disabilities, and was forced to shut down last month because of insufficient staffing.
Jason Dyck of Prairie Partners, the agency that operates the home and five others in the Boissevain area, says he lost five support workers recently because either they or their spouses got higher-paying jobs in the southwestern Manitoba oil patch.
"At some point, you kind of hit that wall where you can't recruit anymore staff, and certainly we were losing some to the oilfield," he said.
Dyck said the province does not fund support workers at much more than minimum wage.
"We weren't able to pay much more than $12 an hour," he said, adding that oilpatch jobs generally pay more than $25 an hour.
"Unless there's appropriate funding to actually pay a fair wage for the type of work that's being done, you're going to end up seeing staffing [crises] across the province."
7 people forced to move
The closure of the Boissevain group home forced seven clients to move out of town, including Ron Falk's former roommate, Justin.
Falk, who lives in another group home in town, said his friend has moved to a facility in another community, a 45-minute drive away from Boissevain.
"I miss him. I always think about him," Falk said, as he helped move some of Justin's furniture to his new home.
Reeve Bob McCallum of the Rural Municipality of Morton says it has been difficult to drive by the now-empty group home.
"It's a worry, but I have faith that we're going to be able to get it up and running again," he said.
"If we get the government on board, the clientele will come back."
McCallum said the shortage of workers is a downside to the economic boom created by the oil industry.
Charlene Paquin, an assistant deputy minister with Manitoba's Department of Family Services, says the province has nearly doubled wages for support workers over the last decade.
At the same time, Paquin acknowledged there are "newer challenges that they're facing now, in terms of competing with other industries.
"We know we're going to have to look at that," she said.
Dyck said he hopes to convert the empty group home into an independent-living facility that would not require as many staff members.