Nursing home staff rally across N.S. for better pay, more workers
Minister says the province is 'putting the building blocks in place' to improve conditions
Long-term care workers rallied at sites around Nova Scotia Tuesday to protest their working conditions and call for immediate action from the provincial government.
Their demands — for higher wages and larger staffing complements — have become common refrains from a sector that is stretched thin.
Lisa Walters, a licensed practical nurse at St. Vincent's Nursing Home in Halifax, said there are sometimes two staff on duty to care for more than 30 residents.
"The staff are crying, the residents are crying. They're burning out like crazy," Walters said.
"We're asking for help ... we're asking to see a change in care. Don't forget about long-term care. Everybody is going to get old, we're all going to be seniors."
Walters highlighted a longstanding call for the province to legislate 4.1 hours of daily care per resident, as well as better wages, especially for continuing care assistants who make up the bulk of the long-term care workforce. CCAs are paid, on average, $17 to $19 an hour.
Walters was one of a few dozen people who rallied outside St. Vincent's.
Also at the rally was Louise Riley, a CCA and chairperson of CUPE's long-term care committee.
"It's not an easy job working in a nursing home," said Riley, who has been a CCA for 40 years. "It's a lovely job, the residents are wonderful, but we need more staff to give the residents what they deserve."
Riley and several others at the rally said CCAs should make at least $25 an hour. When campaigning for this year's federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would push the provinces to make $25 an hour the minimum rate for that type of work.
Some nursing homes in Nova Scotia have recently closed to new admissions because they don't have enough continuing care assistants and nursing staff. One home in Berwick, N.S., recently asked families to pitch in more to help with resident care.
St. Vincent's executive director, Angela Berrette, said her facility is in the same boat as others.
"Staffing is at a critical state at most nursing homes in the province. St. Vincent's struggles to meet our minimum number of staff that we'd like to have on any given day," she said.
Berrette said she shares the views of her staff who are calling for better wages and higher staffing ratios.
"Working short … burns people out. Even people who love this work are getting tired and it makes it really hard for them to keep up."
She said administrators cannot make the necessary changes without the province increasing their budgets.
Minister says change coming
The PC government campaigned on a promise to improve working conditions in long-term care, in part by hiring 2,000 additional workers.
At the start of November, the province announced it would hire recruiters to help meet that goal, and put more money into professional development and innovation.
Barbara Adams, minister of seniors and long-term care, said the province is working toward 4.1 care hours and will eventually enshrine it in legislation.
Adams, who has worked in long-term care as a physiotherapist, said "the sector has been underfunded and underserved for a long time," and the PC government is working to correct that.
"We're putting the building blocks in place," Adams said in an interview Tuesday, adding that more will be announced next week about changes to come in long-term care.
She said she agrees that CCAs should be paid more but would not say exactly how much. She encouraged unions to head to the negotiating table to discuss wages.
Union representative Carl Crouse said CUPE's contract with the province expired last October. He said he hopes CUPE will begin bargaining in the next couple months.
CUPE organized 30 rallies around the province Tuesday outside long-term care facilities and MLA offices.
Gary Siepierski attended the rally outside Ocean View Continuing Care Centre in Eastern Passage, where his mother is a resident.
He said he was there to support the staff who care for his 89-year-old mother as if she was a member of their own family.
"It's so nice to see that our loved ones are given the care and compassion that they deserve and the dignity they deserve at this point in their lives," he said.
He said he can tell staff are drained, but he has never seen them let the quality of care slip.
"Although the staff is overworked, they just ... dig deep deep down inside them I'm sure, and they find the compassion and the caring."
Mo Dares, a resident at Ocean View, shared a similar message. She said there are many days when she can tell there are too few CCAs on duty.
"They're just running their tooshes off trying to take care of us … but we're never uncared for."
With files from Gareth Hampshire and Preston Mulligan