THUNDER BAY - The union representing support workers at Hogarth Riverview Manor is describing the situation in the facility as dysfunctional due to chronic under-staffing and overworked members.
“They are working short, or they are working overtime, even if they don’t want to be, but they don’t want to see their co-workers work short,” said Suzanne Pulice, vice-president of Unifor Local 229. “They are burning out because they want to do the best they can for the residents and tenants they are looking after. But it’s hard to do.”
Unifor Local 229 members held an information picket outside the 400 bed-facility on Tuesday as negotiations on a new collective agreement continue before the current agreement expires on Oct. 30.
“We know because of what is going to be legislated by the provincial government, there will be a one per cent wage cap that is going to affect people in these work places,” Pulice said. “So what we are looking at is working on language because that’s all we can work with right now. We are having some struggles with the employer seeing things our way.”
According to Andy Savela, director of health for Unifor Canada, the current ratio of workers to patients is 1 to 12, however, the situation is often worse due to workers not able to work, is resulting in chronic understaffing.
“There’s not a workforce that they can call in to do this work while they are working short,” he said. “Younger generations are avoiding long-term care because they know what the work load is like.”
Shortages of staff in long-term care homes is an issue affecting communities across the province and the country. Pulice said it can be a very difficult job, both physically and mentally.
“You are dealing with actual people, not just machines,” she said. “We need everyone to get to the table and find a way strategically to get people interested, give them an opportunity to take those courses so they can get hired, and so that there are people to look after the residents in these facilities.”
Tracy Buckler, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Care Group, which oversees Hogarth Riverview Manor, said several initiatives have been undertaken in the last few years to try to increase recruitment and retention of personal support workers, such as partnering with education institutions to help students through the program and find placements.
“We need to continue to work hard on those issues and we are,” Buckler said. “We do have a number of vacancies presently. During the summer time, we were able to hire a number of nursing students who are qualified as PSWs. That was a good relief for our regular staff to be able to allow for vacation time. People need time off. They need a break.”
Personal support workers provide care to residents at Hogarth Riverview Manor, many of whom require assistance with day-to-day actions.
“They have mobility issues, health issues, and dementia issues,” Pulice said. “It’s not just as easy as going in there and telling someone it’s time to get up and get dressed because you have to do that for them. So that can be difficult.”
And while many long-term care homes are facing staffing shortages, Savela said Hogarth Riverview Manor has struggled continually with many issues since it opened.
“This whole facility needs to be put under a microscope by the people who fund it, the people who manage it, and really by all people who are concerned about the situation in long-term care facilities,” he said.
“It’s never really operated well. It was never given the funding they need to provide an acceptable, workable staff to patient ratio and as such, workers are getting burned out, our residents who live in these facilities are suffering because they are not getting the care that they need simply because there is not enough resources to provide it.”
In 2017, Hogarth Riverview Manor came under third-party management, which Savela says makes no sense to union officials.
“The reality is if they took that money they are paying to manage management, and put it into front line staffing, I think that would go a long way to deal with the issues we are seeing inside,” he said.
Buckler said it is not up to St. Joseph’s Care Group when the mandatory third-party management will be lifted.
“We need to demonstrate evidence of stability of management and demonstrate evidence of sustained compliance,” she said. “The last compliance inspection report did show a number of compliance orders were lifted, which is good news.”
Negotiations between St. Joseph’s Care Group and Unifor Local 229 will continue next week.