Presentation to Health Committee on LTC
This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of our quarterly magazine, The Union Stand:
In mid-January, members of the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Health heard from five union leaders, as well as the managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, about what happened in long-term care facilities during COVID. NSGEU’s President, Jason MacLean, made the following presentation to the committee:
As President of the NSGEU and 1st Vice President of the Nova Scotia Federation Labour, I proudly represent thousands of people working in the continuing care sector.
Many work in long-term care facilities throughout this province. Interestingly, we actually represent none of the workers at the Northwood Halifax campus. But many of our members were forced to go work there during the first wave of COVID, when the virus was ravaging the facility.
What happened at Northwood was a tragedy, no doubt, but it was a preventable tragedy.
To be clear, the staff at Northwood are not to blame for what happened there.
For years, they have ignored the cries of workers and the unions who represent them, trying to call attention to crisis in the sector, all while cutting the long-term care budgets.
At the outset of this pandemic, when we tried to raise critical concerns from frontline workers, not only did government ignore us, they accused us of fear-mongering and hyperbole.
Then, 53 people died.
Systemic underfunding is the root cause of all that is wrong with our long-term care sector.
We have a government that has been fixated for eight years on balancing their budget at any cost.
Now, we can clearly see what the true cost of that balanced budget was.
In our report, Neglecting Northwood, we clearly outline the systemic problems that came to light during COVID, including the fact that management from Northwood approached this government for three consecutive years, asking for funding to modernize their facility to make it safer for residents and staff.
Those requests were denied.
Make no mistake: what happened at Northwood could have happened at just about any long-term care facility in our province. It still could.
Because we still face the same systemic issues that have been raised by workers in this sector for a very long time.
Band-aid solutions, like providing bursaries and creating a new, lower-paid position in the sector, are not going to solve the problem.
In short, we need more trained and qualified staff to work in this sector. They need to want to work in this sector. The work they do is hard work: it is physical; it is incredibly stressful; and it is certainly not glamorous. They make approximately $18 an hour for their efforts.
In some communities, they need to work in multiple facilities to cobble together enough to make a living and support their families.
In other areas, they are so understaffed that they cannot get vacation time approved.
The sector needs to be completely reformed so we can actually keep people in this occupation.
In many ways, government’s reaction to long-term care during the pandemic was simply indicative of how it views the sector in normal times: it is an afterthought.
Our seniors and our workers deserve much better.
Long-term care and home care must be thought of as part of our overall public health care system.
Our government needs to take full responsibility for what happened at Northwood, and invest in reforming this system, if they truly want to ensure Nova Scotians are protected.
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