Nova Scotia urged to do more to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in nursing homes
'Systemic underfunding is the root cause of what was wrong with our long-term care sector,' says NSGEU head
Nova Scotia nursing homes have kept COVID-19 out of their facilities during wave two of the pandemic, but some advocates are pressuring the McNeil government to do more to keep residents safe.
Members of the legislature's standing committee on health heard from five union leaders Tuesday, as well as the managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association. They all urged the province to provide those facilities with more money, and their staff with higher wages.
"I've been talking about this since I became president and quite frankly I'm getting a little tired of repeating myself over and over and over again," said Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton, who has led the organization since 2002.
"I came in talking about this and and I do not want to retire talking about this."
Jason MacLean of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union was blunt in his criticism.
"Systemic underfunding is the root cause of what was wrong with our long-term care sector," he told the all-party committee.
MacLean then pointed the finger of blame at the governing Liberals for the 53 deaths at Northwood's Halifax campus during the first wave of the pandemic.
"The staff at Northwood are not to blame for what happened there," he said. "I believe the government is.
"We have a government that has been fixated for eight years on balancing their budget at any cost. Now we can clearly see the true cost of what that balanced budget was."
Nova Scotia's deputy minister of health, Kevin Orrell, praised long-term care workers, unions and nursing home administrators as "partners" who have kept residents safe during the second wave of the pandemic.
"I think it has all contributed to a very successful management thus far, and pray to God that it continues because we are basically the envy of the country and probably the world in terms of how we have proceeded with this second wave," said Orrell.
At Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing, Premier Stephen McNeil said the province will continue to work with its partners on staffing at long-term care homes.
"We will continue, as we do every year, to look at the complement of services that we're providing in long-term care facilities, make sure that the staffing levels are appropriate," he said.
Michele Lowe, managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, stressed the need Tuesday for bolstering budgets to hire more staff and provide them with the electronic resources they need.
She also said a plan was needed to renovate existing homes or build new facilities so that residents don't have to share living space or bathrooms — recommendations put forward by the group in a 2020 report.
"Many of us believe that we have everything we need to create world-class care here in Nova Scotia," she said.