Nova Scotia

Nurses' union concerned about COVID-19, nursing home plan

The plan, mentioned on Tuesday by Nova Scotia's chief medical officer, is to treat long-term care patients in their nursing homes rather than taking them to the hospital if they contract COVID-19.

Nova Scotia's top medical official suggested treating long-term care patients with COVID-19 in nursing homes

Janet Hazelton is the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union has concerns about a plan to treat residents of long-term care facilities in nursing homes instead of hospitals if they contract COVID-19.

The plan was briefly mentioned by Nova Scotia's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, on Tuesday. 

"If we had an outbreak of COVID-19, we would be looking to find ways to bring more acute levels of clinical care into that long-term care facility rather than transferring those individuals into a hospital," Strang said.

"So that's part of the planning that is underway now through our model of care that NSHA is leading."

Staffing levels

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, said there currently isn't enough licensed staff in Nova Scotia's long-term facilities to care for what she said could and would be very ill residents.

"I understand why they would want to stay and care for these individuals within their facility because if a facility was to get this virus it would probably affect more than one or two," Hazelton told CBC News.

"But I am concerned about the staffing levels we currently have in long-term care. We don't have the … RNs and LPNs to care for individuals that would be that ill.

"We also don't have the equipment in our long-term care facilities to care for these individuals. We have very limited, if any, PPEs in in long-term care."

Unique challenges of nursing homes

If the plan is to treat someone in a long-term care facility, there needs to be discussion on how that plan would be carried out, she said.

She said nursing homes can present unique challenges that are different from a hospital.

"How we're going to keep people isolated with this population that sometimes, if they have dementia, may not understand isolation?" she said.

"At this point we don't have family to help us to come and stay with mom or dad or whomever they love who has dementia because they're not permitted in the building.

"It's not impossible but there are significant challenges with caring for these individuals in the home."

Equipment issues

Hazelton said she doesn't know of any long-term care facilities with in-wall oxygen. She said IVs can't be started and maintained in long-term care by the nursing staff because of the lack of staff. 

"There are some significant challenges. None which can't be done, but it's going to take some thought and … some leadership," she said.

Strang said the province is working on a plan and Hazelton said it's imperative the nurses' union be involved. So far, the union hasn't been involved in any plan to treat residents in nursing homes.

"Unless we're part of the plan, it's difficult for us to support it," she said.

With files from Jean Laroche and Shaina Luck