Faced with staffing shortage, Drummondville CHSLD turns to volunteers

The Frederick-George-Heriot CHSLD launched a pilot project last fall to train volunteers to assist paid staff in their regular duties.

The Frederick-George-Heriot care centre launched a pilot project last fall to train volunteers

The pilot project has brought on volunteers to help with meal times and make up for staffing shortages. (Radio-Canada)

A government-run long-term care centre in Drummondville, Que., has begun relying on volunteers to help take care of residents due to chronic staffing shortages in the province.

The Frederick-George-Heriot CHSLD launched a pilot project last fall to train volunteers to assist paid staff in their regular duties.

It launched the project as it faced trouble feeding residents on time and offering them regular baths, due to persistent personnel shortages.

"Our clientele was getting larger. Feeding certain residents can take as long as 45 minutes. At a certain point, we couldn't do it," said Marie-Claude René, head of volunteer outreach for the regional public health authority.

So far, the project has been well-received by residents of the Frederick-George-Heriot centre.

Marie-Claude René coordinates the volunteer program for the regional health authority. (Radio-Canada)

"At least it allows for people to eat their meals while they're warm. The staff are doing their best, but there isn't enough time," said resident Rolland Fleury.

Volunteers taking part in the project say they do basic tasks that allow staff to focus on residents who require more attention.

"I can wash tables and put on bibs because the staff can't manage it. They really need the help," said volunteer Diane Cusson.

Union calls for more sustainable solution

The union representing local care facility workers isn't opposed outright to the idea of calling on volunteers to help staff, but they are concerned whether it will address safety issues associated with staffing shortages. 

"It depends on the framework," said Marie-Line Séguin, who represents the Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux pour le Centre du Québec.

"If a person is choking, a volunteer can't intervene. It requires a staff worker or a nursing assistant."

Séguin added that a more sustainable solution requires improving staff retention rates by making long-term care work more appealing.

Quebec's long-term care facilities are facing a chronic shortage of orderlies who see to patients' basic needs and transport.

Several other care facilities in the Montérégie and Laurentides regions have tried to get around the problem by hiring more nursing assistants, but at a higher cost.

Volunteers need special training to know how to interact with the patients and help them, explained René.

Feeding people who have dysphagia, for example, is difficult because they have difficulty swallowing, so mostly volunteers work with residents who can manage with less help.

René added that all the meals take place in the common area, so that staff are always on hand in case they need to step in.

The health authority is also putting an emphasis on recruiting orderlies, by paying for their training and hiring them as service aids while they complete their courses.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Davide Gentile