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N.S. to spend $57 million to hire long-term care staff, increase beds

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WATCH: The bulk of the spending will go towards recruiting more continuing care assistants, while it union says the government investments miss the mark as it doesn't address low wages. Jesse Thomas has more – Dec 8, 2021

Nova Scotia will spend $57 million over the next two and a half years to hire staff and open more beds for seniors waiting for long-term care, the province announced Wednesday.

In a release, the province said the money will be used to hire continuing care assistants, to improve working conditions for staff, and to make empty beds in other facilities available to seniors.

Read more: N.S. long-term care workers rally across the province for better working conditions

“Seniors deserve dignity, and we will make sure that the supports are in place to care for them and give them what they need as they age,” said Premier Tim Houston in the release.

Of the $57 million, $22 million will go toward covering 100 per cent of the tuition costs for more than 2,000 students in continuing care assistant programs.

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The release said students will have the option of taking full- or part-time studies or participating in a new “work and learn” training program, which would allow students to earn money while learning. It said students in that program will be in the workforce beginning in February.

Read more: N.S. promises jobs for every nursing grad in the next 5 years

Here are the other planned investments in human resources:

  • $8 million to give long-term care homes funding to hire more staff, or offer casual and part-time employees full-time positions
  • $3.1 million to hire temporary staff through employment agencies while the province works on making a larger workforce
  • $3.1 million to give tuition rebates for current continuing care assistants
  • $2.1 million to recruit continuing care assistants nationally and internationally
  • $1.4 million to improve staff scheduling and delivery of care
  • $1.3 million to increase professional development opportunities for staff
  • $1.3 million to attract workers to parts of the province where staffing is more challenging
  • $630,000 to double the number of people who have their prior experience recognized so they can apply for positions in continuing care
  • $466,000 to provide physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work services and psychological services to injured or ill employees

Funding to open more long-term care beds includes:

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  • $6.1 million to convert and license beds in residential care and assisted living facilities to nursing home level care
  • $5.9 million to license and fund 30 Veterans Affairs Canada beds for Nova Scotians who need them
  • $1.8 million to extend an agreement with Shannex and the Sisters of Charity to keep 23 temporary nursing home beds open for another year

“There are hundreds of elderly parents and grandparents in hospital waiting for a bed in a long-term care home and even more waiting in the community,” said Barbara Adams, Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care, in the release.

“These investments will help seniors get the care they deserve and alleviate pressures in other areas of the healthcare system.”

Low wages not addressed

Nan McFadgen is the president of CUPE Nova Scotia, which represents more than 4,000 continuing care assistants in the long-term sector.

She said it’s a “great idea” to fund tuition for people studying continuing care.

However, McFadgen said the announcement focuses more on recruitment than retention — and said retention remains a problem in the industry, which has been chronically underfunded for years.

“We haven’t received a wage increase that would encompass a cost of living increase in (what will) soon be nine years,” she said.

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Read more: Nova Scotia to hire more nurse practitioners for long-term care facilities

Continuing care assistants in Nova Scotia make, on average, $17.70 per hour. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates the living wage in the Halifax area to be at least $22.05 per hour.

These continuing care assistants, who are “underpaid, overworked, and undervalued,” are “receiving poverty wages or living in poverty,” she said.

“It’s a very, very low wage.”

Read more: Nova Scotia to add beds and upgrade long-term care homes in wake of COVID-19 deaths

During a news conference Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston said increasing wages for continuing care assistants will come through negotiating a new contract with the union, which has been without a contract since October 2020.

“This is important work that’s being done to improve the quality of life for Nova Scotians, and they should be compensated accordingly,” he said. “Wages are part of the equation.”

Meanwhile, McFadgen said the union is eager to work with the government to improve conditions for long-term care workers.

“We’re so far behind now that we’re hoping that society will see the value in the work, and the workers doing it, and support a meaningful increase that can help us catch up,” she said.

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— with a file from The Canadian Press

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