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Revera could lay off PSWs and RPNs at Hallowell House despite pandemic

Posted: August 24, 2021

(August 23, 2021)

By: Sue Capon, County Live

By Sue Capon
The sound of horns blaring in support of workers holding an information picket near Hallowell House nursing home Monday was almost deafening at times, as they stood in blazing heat and humidity protesting expected layoffs in the pipeline.

Staff hailed as heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic for working above and beyond the call of duty are facing the possibility of unemployment and fear what a fourth wave may mean for residents, families and co-workers.

The union states it learned two months ago that seven full-time personal support workers (PSWs) and three full-time registered practical nurses could be cut from the 60-member staff. The cuts, said the local union president, would follow a provincial mandate reducing residents in ward rooms to two, from four.

“We have been discussing what future staff schedules would look like if the MLTC (Ministry Long-Term Care) chooses to adjust funding to reflect our actual resident count of 64. Some shifts may change, but we do not want to lay people off,” stated Larry Roberts, Director of Communications for Revera.

Kathleen Brooks, President of Unifor Local 8300, said “They believe that by losing about 30 residents in the change to ward rooms, they should decrease staff as they will be funded for fewer people. We’re saying you’re then scheduling a skeleton crew and you’re putting everybody in danger.”

County resident Janet Elson, essential caregiver for her 91-year-old mom Ann, supports the workers on the line and the management in the nursing home. Preferring an end to for-profit long-term care, she puts the responsibility squarely on Hallowell House’s operator, Revera, which is the second-largest personal care home operator in the country. It is owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board.

“I don’t think these staff are surplus to the needs of the residents. I think they are surplus to the needs of Revera’s bottom line,” said Elson. “I think the decision makers both in Revera and in government need to be better informed. I challenge them to spend a week shadowing or doing any of these jobs while providing the level of care residents need and deserve; then see what they think about the hours, the pay and the tools and time given to complete their tasks.”

Elson notes she has often observed people working short-staffed at Hallowell House, attempting to provide the best level of care they can in the circumstances. She wonders at what point it becomes a safety issue, noting it already affects the quality of life for her mom in her final years.

“Add COVID into the mix and you’ve got a sure fire recipe for burn out. How on earth does Revera think this will not affect resident care? I can only conclude they do know, but it is not their priority.”

Brooks said the workers “are willing to stand out here from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on their day off, or after their shifts, in a really hot week, until Revera gets the message. These men and women are fighting for residents, and fighting for themselves. It absolutely affects the care of the residents.”

Brooks says “the two bed maximum is a great thing for the safety of the residents, and definitely for the people who work there,” noting there are about 60 staff at Hallowell (approximately 50/50 part and full-time), but while Revera’s plan is to layoff the 10 positions, it will still employ contracted out workers.

“They’ve had a sign up on the lawn here since COVID began, looking for help, as well as help wanted postings on the Revera website. This is not a new problem. We have always known that healthcare needs more staff on the floor – even before COVID started.”

Brooks said the union has provided Revera recommendations to ward off the layoffs, including looking at laying off one assistant management position, instead of the 10 jobs.

“The mangers are paid out of the nursing envelope and that’s a large chunk of money that will go a long way to keep staff on the floor,” said Brooks. “We also want to see them implement the four hours of care now which is supposed to come in 2025 and we’ve asked them to allow our workers to do the jobs that are currently contracted out for work such as screening and restorative care (such as physio).

“The community by and large does not know what the layoffs mean. It means those residents are going to have less care than they have now. For example, the staff have six minutes in the morning to get a resident up, washed, dressed, teeth brushed, hair combed; some wear makeup, some wear jewellery, the men shaved, and down to the dining room.

“We have seen on a night shift that if somebody calls in, they could be down to two PSWs for 98 residents and one RN. Now there’s 60 residents but that is still dangerous… All it takes is for one person to fall and that nurse will be with that resident now for the next couple of hours. The RNs and RPNs are also the only people qualified to give meds.”

With COVID, she adds, everybody knows the nurses and PSWs have much bigger jobs, with fewer people.

“Have they learned nothing? Luckily Hallowell did not have a big outbreak but the fourth COVID wave hasn’t hit yet. If they lay 10 people right off that schedule and they have an outbreak, now what? They would be in severe trouble and have to pull in more contract people – of which agency wages are astronomical as the company pays their employees mileage as they’re usually from another city, hotel and feed them, all when we have people here who want to work.”

“If Hallowell has to shut down again in a fourth wave, families won’t be able to come in to help their loved ones. They need to be informed. They need to be involved and tell Revera they are not happy.

“I’m happy to be here (from Kingston) to support them, as is our entire local (stretching from Ottawa to Belleville). If need be, I will call in the other unions to come out and give us a hand.”

Concerns for resident care, and employment of the people who provide that care is mired in decades of underfunding, understaffing, part-time work and a focus on profits which health organizations and unions say have eroded Ontario’s long-term care system.

Though this is the first information picket the local union president can recall at Hallowell House, Brooks recalls being involved in 1996 during the ‘Dignity and Justice’ campaign following the Harris government repeal of the standards of care legislation.

The Ontario Health Coalition has released a report of a recent survey completed anonymously by front-line workers within long-term care workplaces in the Kawartha Lakes-Peterborough-Northumberland regions. In it, 70 per cent of respondents noted staff levels at their workplaces have not returned to pre-COVID levels and 76 per cent stated they are working short-staffed daily.

Seventy per cent of respondents said the biggest issue to be resolved at their workplaces is increased staffing; followed by better management (29 per cent) and more money (21 per cent).

The Ontario Health Coalition is planning a mass protest ‘Reject Neglect – Fix LTC now!’ for the opening of the legislature Monday, Sept. 13 at noon at Queen’s Park, and in Thunder bay and Ottawa.

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