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‘Some don’t even get showered’: Barrie long-term-care staffer discusses ‘upsetting’ working conditions

Posted: August 11, 2020

(August 10, 2020)

By: Chris Simon & Janis Ramsay, Barrie Advance

Out of the Simcoe-Muskoka region’s 37 COVID-19-related deaths, 24 are linked to long-term-care and retirement homes

It’s all true, the stories of long-term-care residents who are malnourished and dehydrated, and who live in quarters that are dirty and foul-smelling.

That’s according to two longtime employees of Barrie-area seniors’ facilities interviewed by Simcoe.com. Based on the sensitivity of this issue, and out of fear for their jobs, we’ve granted these workers anonymity.

They spoke up to help protect seniors and prevent their colleagues from experiencing further burnout. A recent survey by Ontario Health Coalition suggested 95 per cent of Ontario long-term-care staff believe labour shortages mean residents’ basic needs are going unmet.

One of the sources, who prepares daily meals for residents at a Barrie facility, says COVID-19 just amplified issues that have existed for years. At the height of the pandemic, when several Simcoe-Muskoka long-term-care and retirement facilities were operating under outbreak protocol, staff would stay home out of fear, the meal preparer said. Sometimes, the source noted, there weren’t enough employees on duty to adequately feed the residents.

A ban on visitors, coupled with staffing shortfalls, meant cleaning practices became lax at times, the meal preparer added, and some residents would go long stretches without bathing or showering.

“We’re short-staffed, underpaid and tired,” said the employee. “It’s a really difficult place to be right now. We have to stop looking at it like a business. There’s people who work in factories that make more money than PSWs (personal support workers) and nurses taking care of human beings.

“These are people, somebody’s mother or father. They built this country. Some don’t even get showered. There’s no time to feed or bathe these people. Just no time. They have rights. These are things that are happening. If you went in and your mother was dirty and smelly and there was no staff to clean them, that would be very upsetting.”

The other source, a nurse who works in a local long-term-care facility, said the standard of care can vary between sites. When choosing a home for an elderly relative, loved ones should make note of strong smells as they enter each facility and ask about PSW ratios, dietary menus, call-bell systems and recreation calendars. Bring a binder with questions and other material to the tour, and ask for a business card from the guide.

“There are no bad questions,” the nurse said. “This is your loved one and their care is the home’s top priority.”

More than 150 long-term-care staff across the province were surveyed by the coalition. The advocacy group says those employees described current workplace conditions as “heartbreaking,” “wrong” and “a far cry from what they deserve.”

“Staff have been denied vacation, stat holidays and weekends under emergency orders since the beginning of the pandemic,” coalition executive director Natalie Mehra said in a statement. “Staff have left due to fear, injuries, lack of child care and the requirement to choose one home in which to work. Some homes have dozens of staff lines unfilled. Many work short every day, every shift.”

Swaraj Mann, a spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living, describes the pandemic as “incredibly challenging for the entire” sector. Outbreaks were declared at several Sienna-operated facilities in the region, including Bradford Valley and Barrie’s Owen Hill care communities — where a combined total of more than 90 residents and staff tested positive for the virus. Twenty-three residents died at those two facilities.

“We will continue to work closely with public health authorities and the government to protect the health and safety of our residents and team members, as we are committed to being fully prepared for a potential second wave of the pandemic,” Mann said, noting Sienna is updating its protocols and procedures.

The province has committed to increased funding to upgrade and improve facilities, but hiring is a difficult task right now.

“The seniors’ living sector more broadly has experienced staffing challenges for some time,” Mann said. “These are challenging realities that we are working hard to address.”

Overall, outbreaks have been declared at 13 long-term-care and retirement facilities throughout the region, leading to a total of 74 resident and 80 staff cases.

Out of the region’s 37 virus-related deaths, 24 are linked to long-term-care and retirement homes.

The meal preparer called the coalition report “spot on.”

“I’m not thrilled with the idea of being linked to this. But, after I read that report, they may as well have done that survey at my work. It was exactly all of the things that have been happening for years … People need to step up and start taking care of these (residents).”

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