Long-term care in crisis on P.E.I., nurses' union says

Staffing shortages have left the province's long-term care system in crisis, according to the P.E.I. Nurses' Union.

Some nurses working double shifts to fill staffing shortages

Barbara Brookins, president of the P.E.I. Nurses' Union, says the province should be offering retention incentives to health-care workers. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Staffing shortages have left the province's long-term care system in crisis, according to the P.E.I. Nurses' Union.

The union representing registered nurses was one of three unions making presentations to the province's Standing Committee on Health.

All raised concerns around staffing and working conditions in long-term care.

The nurses' union said more than 100 long-term beds have been taken out of the system because there aren't enough staff to provide even minimum levels of care.

Union president Barbara Brookins said some of those beds are now being filled again, even though staff vacancies remain. 

'Last-minute measures'

"The employer is relying on last-minute measures to maintain the bare minimum staffing, increasing the staff anxiety and creating an unstable workforce within long-term care," she said.

"Some of the most desperate facilities have been forced to open beds when they don't have enough staff to fill the shifts, and they're relying on casual staff and even forced reassignment to cover the shifts."

Brookins said more than 20 per cent of RN positions on P.E.I. are currently vacant, and more than 300 nurses are eligible to retire this year.

She told MLAs nurses in some long-term care homes are being required to stay on for double shifts when no one comes to relieve them at the end of their scheduled shift.

In an email statement to CBC, Health P.E.I. said "every day we are in a position where we are asking staff to go beyond expectations to ensure services are offered. Working double shifts and starting a third shift before being relieved have happened."

Brookins said some government long-term care homes, such as Colville Manor in Souris, are operating with only one-third of their nursing positions filled.

The unions say health-care retention is where the province is struggling, and the more workers who leave the system, the more pressure is put on those who remain.

They are calling for retention incentives, such as the $5,000 offered to nurses in Ontario.

'Strengthening support for home care'

Health P.E.I. acknowledged "recruitment and retention of health-care workers, including those is long-term care, is extremely important and required in order to improve this situation."

"Recently announced incentives for training for RCWs, nursing recruitment incentives, additional cohorts for training and recruitment initiatives are all part of the solution," the email statement said.

"Health P.E.I. is also strengthening support for home care, as most people would prefer to live at home, with increased investments in this area."

With files from Kerry Campbell