New Brunswick nursing home staff shortages create challenges across the province

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As concern grows over staff shortages at New Brunswick nursing homes, some locations are attempting novel approaches to address the problem. Adrienne South has more – May 18, 2017

A New Brunswick nursing home is getting creative with staffing solutions as recruitment and retention concerns grow at facilities across the province.

Nashwaak Villa executive director Daphne Noonan said the staffing shortage affects different organizations in different ways, depending on their size.

“With us being a small, rural home, what we tend to have challenges with is when we have unexpected absences of people,” Noonan said.

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She said they need casual staff and in a rural home it’s harder to have that “deeper bench” when you need to call for casual people at the last minute or to cover vacations.

“When you can only offer people the casual hours in a non-guaranteed way, then it’s hard to retain enough people in that capacity,” Noonan said.

“We’re kind of finally getting to a place where in our sector and with government that we’re wanting to coordinate and really try to understand the problem,” Noonan said.

READ MORE: Moncton nursing home one of many in New Brunswick facing staffing issues: director

For the past year and a half, Nashwaak Villa has implemented a system in which people who are on their casual call list for a specific duty will sleep at the facility, only being woken up or “pressed into work” when they’re needed, as a way to address staffing concerns, Noonan said.

“So it’s not by any means a solution to the problem, but it certainly is something that helps us ensure that we’re being as safe as we possibly can in sort of an emergent situation,” Noonan said.

Registered nurse (RN) Brittany Hood has worked at the facility for almost five years and said staffing concerns affect nursing homes across the province.

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“I’ve worked at some other nursing homes… and there’s a problem with recruitment and retaining staff there as well. It’s not just an RN issue, it’s across the board with LPNs and PSWs as well, luckily we have really good staff here that will band together and support each other when we are working short,” Hood said.

Noonan said the on-call shift won’t help solve the “root of the issue,” but said the idea came out of a collaboration with a group of colleagues in the region who have recently met to address the issue of staffing shortages and alleviate challenges the sector is facing.

She said there needs to be a “systematic approach” to staffing concerns.

READ MORE: Auditor general calls on New Brunswick government to develop nursing home plan

Noonan said the facility is at capacity with 30 residents and that it has about 70 employees in total.

That includes casual staff, with half of those jobs being nursing-related positions and the rest relating to support services.

New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes executive director Jodi Hall said staffing challenges in the sector have been a “building issue.”

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“We’ve had nursing homes experiencing shortages. Often it’s been with professional staff and some of the differences that we’re starting to see now is that it’s extending to all members of the care team,” Hall said.

Hall said the main concern is addressing how to sustain a “24/7” workforce.

“It’s critically important to use that we provide the best quality of care possible for our residents and a critical component of that is that we have the appropriate workforce to do so,” Hall said.

Regarding Nashwaak Villa’s on-call shift, Hall agreed that it’s only a “band-aid solution.”

In 2016, New Brunswick Auditor General Kim MacPherson delivered a report in which she said that the province did not have a sustainable plan for nursing homes. Jeremy Keefe

“It’s not the best scenario for anyone,” she said.

Hall said the province is facing staff shortages for several reasons — and there’s still plenty that needs to be understood.

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“I think that we’re able to draw on a lot of anecdotal information right now and certainly there are a lot of ideas as to why we’re experiencing the shortages but we don’t really know for sure and that’s a reason why we’re undertaking a study right now to try to understand that better,” Hall said.

A survey is currently being carried out that asks association members practical questions about their experiences with recruitment and retention over the last two years.

They hope to identify critical areas that need to be addressed.

According to the province, there were 342 seniors in New Brunswick hospitals awaiting placement in nursing homes as of the end of April.

Provincial response

New Brunswick Department of Social Development spokesperson Anne Mooers said the government is working with the aging-care sector to help with recruitment as needed, in an email to Global News.

“Like many sectors, employee retention and recruitment issues occur from time to time. The department is implementing a new and modern process that will address some of the challenges,” Mooers said.

“For instance, proposed changes to the skills mix – which is one component of this new tool now under development – is part of the solution, along with better training and education across the sector and other initiatives.”

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She added that healthy aging and support for seniors is also part of the province’s Family Plan.

“The family plan will also focus on improving access to home and community-based support and providing a responsive and integrated system that is centered on rehabilitation and reablement,” Mooers said.

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