More care for seniors needed, not less funding: Manitoba Nurses Union

The Manitoba Nurses Union wants to know how the provincial government plans on cutting $2.3 million from the long term care budget for seniors in personal care homes.

Province cut annual budget for long-term care by $2.3M in 2018-19

The province has cut the 2018/19 budget for long term care by $2.3 million. (Lighthunter/Shutterstock)

The Manitoba Nurses Union wants to know how the provincial government plans on cutting $2.3 million from the long-term care budget for seniors in personal care homes.

Union president Sandi Mowat worries the money may come out of human resources, meaning staff cuts.

"The worry is our residents in long-term care are not going to get their medications on time," she said. "We already have instances of quite a few falls, so there might be increased falls, increased violent incidents, increased transfers to hospital."

In wake of the funding cut listed in the 2018-19 provincial budget, the union released a new report titled "The future of Long Term Care is now," Thursday morning.

The report addresses concerns over staff hours, quality of care to seniors and the quickly increasing elderly population.

Currently, Manitoba allows a maximum of 3.6 paid hours of care per resident per day. According to the union, the expert-recommended minimum is 4.1 hours per resident.

The report states, "a consistent finding has been that PCHs that report the highest level of staffing subsequently have higher rates of resident stability and provide significantly better care. In comparison, PCHs with low staffing levels [...] have been shown to have higher rates of poor resident outcomes including pressure ulcers, lost ability to perform daily living activities and depression."

Manitoba Nurses Union president Sandi Mowat says nurses are worried about how budget cuts will affect about the quality of care seniors receive in personal care homes. (CBC)
"Our nurses are telling us that the current staffing guidelines ... which includes nursing and health care aides, are not enough," she said. "They're not replacing sick calls and they're not replacing vacation, etc., so they're working short."

A provincial spokesperson said there are no plans to change the number of direct care hours from 3.6 per day. 

Numbers provided by the union show that in 2016 and 2017 the occupancy rate of personal care home beds was 98.2 per cent. During those years 1,000 Manitobans were waiting for beds, 47 per cent of whom were waiting in hospitals. The union has also shared recent projections estimating that an additional 5,100 PCH beds will be needed by 2036.

"Manitoba has an aging population, the residents that are actually going into long-term care are much more complex and have much more needs for care," said Mowat. "We really need to look at this in a really measured approach and actually make decisions based on what these residents need and not talk about cost-cutting."

According to the province, the change in this year's budget is not unusual and similar cuts happen every year.

A provincial spokesperson said the change is due to a yearly adjustment to residential charges, which is based on changes in residents' incomes, such as Old Age Security or the Guaranteed Income Supplement. 

"Moreover, using this formula, residents in long-term care have seen their disposable income increase by $300 per year since our government took office two years ago," said the spokesperson from the Health Minister's office by email.

Mowat said she sent a letter to Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen weeks ago asking about the budget cut and has not yet heard back.

Not a cut: Goertzen

On Thursday, Goertzen said the amount of money going to personal care homes remains the same. The change simply means that patients are paying a higher percentage of the costs, while the government is paying a smaller percentage, he said.

"Every year, those who are in personal care homes pay a portion of the costs and it's adjusted every year as a result of CPP adjustments or Old Age Security adjustments, and that's been happening for decades," Goertzen said.

"The line reduction they may be referring to is simply because of the normal adjustment — the annual adjustment on CPP and OAS — there is additional funding going from the people receiving the care into the system."

NDP health critic Andrew Swan scoffed at Goertzen's suggestion that the change did not amount to a cut. 

"It is a cut. We know from the budget papers that there are both price challenges and volume challenges. This is a real cut and it's a cut that's going to be felt by Manitobans who require long-term care and the people who provide care to them," Swan said. 

The Manitoba Nurses' Union has planned a rally for patient safety at the Legislative Building on May 2.

With files from Aviva Jacob