Action needed to address Winnipeg home care staffing crisis: union

Burnout and severe understaffing is leading to reduced care for vulnerable Manitobans, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204 says.

CUPE Local 204 still wants rapid tests for front-line staff to take at home

Cropped hands of nurse assisting woman in walking with walker at retirement home.
The union that represents more than 14,000 health-care workers in Manitoba says visits are being cancelled 'at unprecedented rates,' which leaves clients without dependable care. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Burnout and severe understaffing is leading to reduced care for vulnerable Manitobans, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204 says.

The union that represents home care workers in Winnipeg is calling on the provincial government and health authorities to acknowledge the scale of what it says is a staffing crisis in home care and provide immediate support to workers.

In a press release sent Tuesday, CUPE said "staffing shortages, suppressed wages, casualization of the workforce, and government neglect for home care workers" mean some Manitobans aren't getting the home care help they need.

"The workers that look after the people in the community are deeply connected to these people and they feel that the most vulnerable are not being treated appropriately by the government," CUPE Local 204 president Debbie Boissonneault said in an interview with CBC News.

"They need to have supports in their homes and they are getting cancelled."

On Thursday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority warned of cancellations for some home care visits due to staffing shortages stemming from COVID-19.

Visits are being cancelled "at unprecedented rates," CUPE's news release said, which leaves clients without dependable care.

In an email to CBC News, a Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spokesperson said "every effort is being made to maintain visits where possible," but "given the current volume of staff illnesses/absences, some cancellations will be inevitable."

The stress on staff is leading to burnout, increased injuries, resignations and medical leaves, according to CUPE.

The union, which represents more than 14,000 health-care workers in Manitoba — including about 2,500 in Winnipeg Regional Health Authority community programs — wants more full-time positions in home care, a reversal of reliance on casual workers, increased funding for home care, and improved recruitment and retention of home care staff through better wages and benefits, the release says.

CUPE says most workers are casual or part-time and don't have adequate access to paid sick days during the pandemic.

The health authority's spokesperson contested that, saying "most WRHA home care staff have access to paid sick leave."

Debbie Boissonneault, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204, said her members are burnt out and stressed due to severe staffing shortages. (Debbie Boissonneault/Facebook)

Boissonneault also said CUPE has been told some home care workers are being transferred to personal care homes due to staffing shortages there.

"So you're stealing from Peter to pay Paul, and that doesn't work," she said.

"[It] is not OK to work short in a PCH, but working short at home it means no care at all."

Rapid tests needed for home care workers

The union also says it still wants rapid tests made available for front-line staff to take at home.

Boissonneault says vaccinated front-line home care workers have no access to employer-provided testing.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority "has no testing options for front-line home care staff beyond the backlogged public testing sites," she said in Tuesday's news release.

"It's bad for workers, bad for clients, and it's bad for public health."

The WRHA said it is currently working toward providing access to rapid testing for all symptomatic staff, including home care workers.

"We are working with the intent to implement it as soon as possible," the health authority's spokesperson said.

The Winnipeg region's home care program enables people to live in their own homes in the community, while ensuring hospital beds and beds in other facilities remain available for those that need them.

In October 2021, CUPE filed 55 policy grievances with the health authority and Shared Health on the issue of adequate personal protective equipment.

Shortages another 'gut punch': chamber CEO

Winnipeg home care workers aren't the only ones dealing with issues.

The president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents about 19,000 workers in the retail, grocery, warehousing, hospitality and assisted living sectors, among others, says many union members are home dealing with the illness.

"Unfortunately, we are running probably more than 700 that we would … know of for sure, and probably well over 1,000 of our members who are currently active cases of COVID-19," said Jeff Traeger.

Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, says the spike in cases has coupled with updated and recently extended public health orders to create a significant impact on its members' workforce.

Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce, is shown in a 2017 file photo. He says the spike in cases, coupled with updated public health orders, is having a significant impact on the workforce. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"You'd be hard pressed to find a business in Manitoba right now" that doesn't have workers at home or isn't short-staffed as a result of COVID-19, he said.

"It's causing great challenges for those businesses to be able to operate safely."

Up until November, things were almost back to normal, he said, but the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 "has had a significant impact in terms of knocking things back down almost to Square 1."

"It's like another gut punch for the business community in Manitoba."

As COVID cases rise, the number of front-line workers is starting to dwindle

2 years ago
Duration 2:47
Featured VideoUnions are calling for more protections for front-line workers, more and more of whom are now off work due to the spread of COVID-19.

With files from Sheila North