Over the past few weeks, there have been dramatic increases of COVID-19 cases in Ontario and Quebec, and now there’s an outbreak at a long-term care home within the Atlantic Bubble at Moncton special care home.
That outbreak has union and political leaders in Nova Scotia wondering if the province’s long-term care homes are ready to face a potential second wave of the pandemic.
“We see the new cases in New Brunswick and we see the startling increase in new cases in long-term care homes in Ontario,” said Nova Scotia NDP leader Gary Burrill.
“We’re at a point where people in long-term care facilities and the public and families, along with everyone in Nova Scotia, want to know what are the plans for staffing that the government is bringing forward.”
Burrill and the NDP are calling on the Nova Scotia Liberal government and department of health and wellness to release its plan to protect against a possible second wave of COVID-19, referencing the recommendations from the Northwood review that was made public last month.
That review urged the province to move swiftly and implement plans to address staffing shortages among health care workers and housekeeping staff in long-term care homes.
The NDP says the province is making it difficult for long-term care facilities to put their best plans forward.
The party referred to a letter the department of health and wellness sent to nursing homes saying they would deduct funding for all empty beds in care homes, citing the increased number of people waiting in hospital for permanent placement in homes.
“Facilities are in fact responding to that very recommendation when they are not fulfilling all vacancies as they occur in order to leave more physical space between residents and to have more residents in single rooms,” said Burrill.
“So it’s not helpful; the government itself has not brought forward a plan of their own for dealing with the staffing dimension in the face of a possible second wave.”
The department of health declined an interview, but in an email statement, says they have been working with all stakeholders and will release its second wave plan soon.
“Our priority is to incorporate the recommendations from both the Northwood and IPAC reports into our planning efforts for a possible second wave,” the statement reads. “Government is investing $26 million this fiscal year and $11 million over the next two years to support this work.”
Compounding the staffing issues is a dispute over access to pandemic premium bonuses the government is offering to front-line workers during the pandemic — bonuses both the NSGEU and CUPE unions say are not being made available to all health-care and housekeeping employees.
“We had the premier (Stephen McNeil) say ‘oh they are our health care heroes, they are all getting it.’ Well, not everyone is getting it,” said NSGEU president Jason MacLean.
Workers were required to apply for the pandemic premium and Maclean says the union will appeal for those who don’t meet the qualifications.
“We’ve reached out to our members and said if you haven’t received pandemic pay then please let us know so we can approach your employer to have this reviewed,” said MacLean.
“That whole announcement was pure politics and trying to make a good feeling because at the end of the day there is a ton of people that didn’t get the pandemic pay and we are deeply disappointed by that.”
Workers inside the nursing home are stretched thin, said CUPE president Nan McFadgen, and while they are putting their own health on the line, many are still fighting to receive the pandemic premium.
“Denying health-care workers the pandemic premium is offensive,” said McFadgen. “If they were properly paid would they even really be thinking of a COVID premium? If they were making a living wage and enough to get by, then this probably wouldn’t even be on our radar.”
The department of health and wellness said they received claims from the majority of qualifying employers for the pandemic premium bonus, but there are some organizations that have filed claims after the Aug. 30 deadline and are under still under review.
The province couldn’t say how many employees have received the pandemic premium or when everyone will receive their pay as it’s up to the employer to deliver the bonus.