As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain Nova Scotia’s long-term care sector, the provincial government has introduced new legislation it hopes will tackle several workforce-related challenges.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Zach Churchill tabled the Continuing Care Registry Act which, if passed, would require the province’s continuing care assistants (CCAs) to register annually in order to work. As it stands, CCAs may register voluntarily, but uptake on that is poor.
Churchill said mandatory registration would “change the landscape” by helping the sector recruit and retain CCAs, and help project its future needs by collecting workforce data.
“This is a fairly easy change, it just does require legislation and regulations but it is a really important one,” the minister explained.
“Workforce planning is really critical and we’ve had a challenge with that in the province because our voluntary registry had less than 10 per cent of our staff register.”
In December 2018, the provincial government’s Expert Advisory Panel on Long-Term Care recommended making registration for CCAs mandatory, “to address the lack of data to appropriately forecast human health resources needs.”
The new bill would authorize the use of the registry’s data for workforce planning, formally define ‘continuing care assistant,’ and set out provisions related to compliance in the profession. It would also allow the health minister to designate an administrator, who would have powers to verify the certification completion of registrants.
CCAs would not need to pay in order to register, and Michele Lowe, managing director for the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, said the bill is “welcomed” in the long-term care sector. It will help fill in workforce data “gaps,” she explained, that could help the sector make the case for better funds and staffing wages.
“We need to be able to demonstrate to the government, to the future governments, that here is a snapshot of where all of the CCAs are, who’s retiring, who’s getting close to retirement, what the projections are moving forward into the future,” she explained.
“We need to be able to demonstrate that this is the reality we will be facing as a recruitment crisis, so therefore investments into recruitment and into the compensation of that workforce may very well take place as a result of the registry.”
The provincial government funds roughly 7,000 CCA positions across Nova Scotia. No estimates were available on Wednesday as to how many more are needed to meet the current demands for care.
The NSGEU, which represents some 700 CCAs in the province, questioned how much good a registry will do if wages and working conditions remain stagnant. Union president Jason MacLean said the bill barely taps into challenges faced by the long-term care sector — particularly CCAs, who often work crippling overtime hours with little access to vacation.
“This does nothing for it, all this does is tell me where somebody is working,” he told Global News.
“They’re not staying in the field because they’re not getting paid enough and the benefits are far outweighed in other professions … We don’t need another study to tell us we need more CCAs in the system.”
Because most CCAs in Nova Scotia are represented by unions, Churchill said contracts — including wages — are not negotiated by his department. He did not comment on the possibility of wage increases, but instead said Health and Wellness has focused on incentivizing folks to become CCAs through “generous bursaries” for training.
Regulations will eventually accompany the bill and Churchill said that will be done in consultation with stakeholders.
MacLean said his union will most certainly weigh in.
Meanwhile, the province said it’s working on implementing other recommendations from the 2018 advisory panel report, but major infrastructure changes and upgrades will take time.