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N.B. Nurses union concerned over level of casual staffing in long-term care homes

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The New Brunswick Nurses union says the reliance of casual staffing in the long term care sector is approaching a dangerous level. Megan Yamoah has the story.

The New Brunswick Nurses Union wants to see an increase in permanent full-time positions in nursing homes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a 2019 New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes hiring forecast that the union obtained through a freedom of information request, New Brunswick nursing homes were expected to fill 170 of their 224 open positions with casual non-guaranteed labour.

That’s a problem for those who live in the homes, according to the New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU).

Read more: New Brunwick nursing home workers vote to approve new contract

“That is a huge number of casual positions without any benefits, without really any ties to the home,” said Paula Doucet, president of the NBNU.

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In Fredericton, the York Care Centre says it strives to create a lasting bond with staff and seniors.

Shelley Kenny, the centre’s vice president of people and culture, says that in “any facility” it’s better to predominantly have full-time staff.

“That, in turn, helps with the consistency in providing quality care,” Kenny said.

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Jamie Roy, the director of clinical care and quality at the facility, agrees. “I think it builds trust and comfort, the residents feel safe knowing that they see that familiar face every day.”

Casual staff are hired mainly to assist on vacation days and sick days, providing a pool of people who can be used to backfill for full-time staff taking time off.

Read more: Out-of-province family visitation at N.B. nursing homes to open up July 3

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But to fill the demand for workers in long-term care homes, St Thomas University professor Deborah van den Hoonaard is calling on the provincial government to increase the funding for nursing homes, as well as increase the number of hours and require permanent, full-time, well-paid staff in the field.

Gilles LePage, Liberal opposition critic for seniors, is calling on the Minister of Social Development to provide a detailed analysis of staffing needs.

“Exactly how many staff is needed in these nursing homes? What’s the shortage?” LePage asked.

“And now, what will be their strategies to make sure that they recruit, and retain these employees?”

To mitigate the transfer of COVID-19, Doucet told Global News that it is especially beneficial to have continuity of care with permanent staff.

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A number of deaths from the virus in the hardest-hit regions in Canada, such as Ontario and Quebec, have been the result of outbreaks at long-term care facilities. Doucet said New Brunswick needs to remain vigilant.

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“New Brunswick is not immune to what happened in other jurisdictions and we need to be looking to find ways to ensure that they are kept safe.”

In New Brunswick, there have been two deaths from COVID-19. Both have been at long-term care homes.

In a statement, Dorothy Shephard, Minister of Social Development, said she met with representatives of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes earlier this week and said she will continue to work that nursing home residents are provided with the care they need.