Staff shortage prompts growing number of Nova Scotia nursing homes to suspend admissions

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More than one in ten nursing homes in Nova Scotia have closed to new admissions due to understaffing.

The province provided the latest figures to CBC News on request following the announcement this week of its intention to invest $ 1.7 million in recruitment and retention efforts for the continuing care sector.

As of November 1, 16 long-term care homes have suspended admissions due to staffing levels. According to a provincial directory, there are 134 licensed long-term care facilities across the province with a total of approximately 8,000 beds.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Seniors and Long-Term Care said the province was working with affected facilities to assess their needs and provide support.

Michele Lowe, executive director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, which represents about half of the homes in the province, said the decision to turn away new residents is not taken lightly.

“There isn’t an administrator in the province who wants to suspend admissions,” Lowe said. “We all know that seniors who are assessed as being in long-term care need to be in long-term care. This is specialized care and this is where it should be.

Continue Care Assistant Doreen Patten chats with a resident of St. Vincent Nursing Home. (Communications Nova Scotia)

CBC reported in September that some homes had started turning down new residents because they were understaffed. At this moment, four houses were hit.

Many homes in Nova Scotia left some beds vacant at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the viral spread, but the previous Liberal government ultimately told them to return to full capacity or lose funding.

Barbara Adams, Minister of Seniors and Long-Term Care for the new PC government, said funding had not changed for vacant homes under current circumstances.

“We hope that if we can make sure there are enough staff, these beds can be reopened as soon as possible,” she told CBC News on Tuesday.

Barbara Adams, Minister of Seniors and Long-Term Care, announced a new recruiting initiative on Monday at an event outside of St. Vincent. (Paul Palmer / CBC)

Lowe said long-term care administrators began to worry this spring that they might have to stop admitting new residents and were looking for guidance on making such a decision.

The association searched across the country for policy papers on the subject and found none. So she developed hers, which Lowe calls “a frame to avoid bed closures.”

She said the framework was shared with administrators in September, so they are now all able to follow the same list of criteria to determine if they have reached critical enough condition to warrant closing beds.

The box sets out the factors that indicate whether a home is in the ‘yellow zone’, meaning that it is about to be about to close admissions, or in the ‘red zone’. which means that the home has reached the critical point where no new residents can be accepted.

As an example, Lowe said that a house that regularly pulls staff from other departments (including managers and administrators) to help feed residents during meals is in the yellow zone. A home that has maximized its ability to attract staff from other departments to help with key aspects of care is in the red zone.

Lack of at least 589 continuing care assistants

On Monday, the province announced a strategy to recruit and retain long-term care and home care staff, particularly continuing care assistants (ACCs). Six recruiters are hired to attract new workers, locally and abroad.

In Nova Scotia, as in many other jurisdictions, there are too few CCAs.

Michele Lowe is the Executive Director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association. (SRC)

Long-term care homes and home care agencies recently reported 589 CCA vacancies in a survey conducted by the province. This figure is probably underestimated, because not all establishments and organizations have responded.

Lowe called the new recruiting and retention strategy a “fantastic initiative” and one that the industry has been calling for for several years. But she doesn’t think the plan goes far enough. She said CCA salaries must increase for recruiting efforts to be successful.

The call for better wages and benefits has been a common refrain among industry groups and labor leaders in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia Union of Government and General Employees reiterated the call on Monday in response to the recruitment and retention strategy. He also asked the province to legislate a minimum of 4.1 hours of daily care per resident.

The Progressive Conservatives have vowed to make that staffing ratio law, but Adams said it likely won’t happen until next spring to give recruiters time to fill some of the current staffing shortage.


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