Nfld. & Labrador

Health-care workers at 'breaking point' in Lewisporte, says NAPE

Working conditions for some health-care workers are unsustainable, says the union, and employees are holding a demonstration in Lewisporte on Friday to show just how fed up they are.

'Enough is enough,' says Jerry Earle, of understaffing, safety issues for LPNs, CPAs

NAPE members rallied Friday in Lewisporte to speak out against their working conditions. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Working conditions for some health-care workers are unsustainable, says their union, and employees are holding a demonstration in Lewisporte on Friday to show just how fed up they are.

"Staff are at a breaking point," said Jerry Earle, president of NAPE, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, which represents the workers.

In particular, Earle said, there are concerns about the amount of work, long hours and denial of time off for licensed practical nurses and personal-care attendants in long-term care homes.

Staffing at these facilities is often short, Earle said, with some workers doing 12-hour shifts, only to be unable to leave because no one is able to be on shift to relieve them.

The demand placed on staff today is "unbelievable," Earle said, adding that he has talked about being on the "eve of crisis" in health care for years.

Bottom line, enough is enough.- Jerry Earle

"Well, I think the crisis has arrived," he said.

According to Mark Gill, director of human resources with Central Health, the health authority doesn't dispute much of what Earle and the NAPE employees are protesting. 

Gill said Central Health recognizes the challenges in terms of staffing at some of the rural health centres.

"Our staff do very high quality work. We know it's hard work, especially for those workers such as the ones Jerry is identifying, who are on the front line with the long-term care residents such as our LPNs and PCAs," Gill said.

The noon demonstration is focused on issues in Lewisporte, but Earle said it's the same story in care facilities across the province.

"This is widespread in long-term care, and it's not good enough. We're not prepared to accept it," he told CBC Newfoundland Morning.

"We're seeing the negative impact on resident care, we're seeing a negative impact on our members, and, bottom line, enough is enough."

In Lewisporte, for example, Earle said LPNs are left alone to attend a unit with as many as 28 residents on it overnight.

"The protective-care unit in Lewisporte, for example, is a separate facility and across a parking lot, but several hundred metres away, and a person at two o'clock in the morning, whether it be summer, winter in a snowstorm, has to go across to relieve the single-staff person in the protective-care unit," he said.

"There's safety issues."

NAPE signs call for an end to forced overtime for long-term care staff. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The union has been in talks with the provincial government and the regional health authorities about long-term solutions, Earle said, but those solutions are more than a year off.

"What we're talking about now is immediate concerns. We are seeing the injuries, we are hearing from LPNs and PCAs that cannot get their due time off, working on their days off, working short, working excessive overtime. That is gravely concerning," he said.

"I can only imagine the effect that it's having on these front-line workers day in and day out that are living these conditions."

Gill said the solution is a multi-pronged approach in partnership with the provincial government and public and private schools to enhance the enrolment of students into LPN and PCA programs throughout the province. 

Right now, Gill said, classes are only seeing about 10 students registering each year. 

And with the increased number of long-term care and personal care facilities being built by the province and a lack of qualified staff, Gill said Central Health is already starting a recruitment drive in Toronto to attract new Canadians to the province, and high school presentations throughout central Newfoundland advertising good paying jobs at home.

"We do work closely with our union partners, we have a great relationship with NAPE both locally within the central region as well as at head office with people like Jerry," Gill said.

"We want to continue to work with our union partners to try to address some of these challenges. And the union holding a rally, we welcome that."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning

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