Both the opposition NDP and SEIU-West are raising concerns over staffing levels in Saskatchewan long term care homes following the release of a long-term care review by the provincial government.
The results of the long-term care review were based on facility-by-facility tours by the senior leadership from each health region, but the NDP are concerned that a simple investment to improve facilities will not address low staffing levels and the impact of reduced care available as a result of short handed staffs.
“Building a new wheelchair ramp or fixing up a bathroom are good things,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “But nothing presented by the government today assures Saskatchewan families that a staff person will be there for their grandmas when they need help to the bathroom, getting out of bed or when their call buttons ring unanswered.”
In unveiling the care review results, Health Minister Dustin Duncan highlighted that they were able to identify both positives and negatives, but overall there are some areas that need attention.
"overall it shows that we need to do better for seniors in need of our care, especially for the vulnerable seniors in our long-term care facilities,” Duncan stated in a news release.
Among the positives were the impact of Resident and Family Councils, the dedication of staff, the beneficial impact of resident-centred recreation programs, and the positive role played by volunteers.
However, among the identified challenges were issues including food (quality, variety and meal times), care issues (complexity, behaviour management, delays in provision of care), safety (resident needs, staff training), resident mix (placing young with older, frail residents), and aging infrastructure.
“We are committed to making improvements that address these issues and improve quality of care and quality of life for seniors,” Duncan said. “That is why our response today includes designating $10 million to address urgent issues identified by these reports, but also why I view this as only an initial step in transforming our long-term care system.”
The $10 million will be delivered as an Urgent Issues Action Fund, addressing priority issues, in areas identified as: purchasing required equipment; more baths; improved nutrition; improved responsiveness to call bells; training to deal with residents with dementia.
“We are taking the concerns expressed very seriously, and challenging the health system to do better,” Duncan said. “It is clear to me that we need a path forward that ensures we are using our resources more effectively to improve quality of care for our seniors.”
Broten has been pressing the province to provide minimum staffing ratios for different levels of seniors care, as well as the ministry setting basic requirements, like the number of baths and meals all seniors in care must be offered.
"It’s a shame this government has been dismissive of the problems that Saskatchewan families raised. I’m glad there is some recognition of seniors’ stories in the CEO reports – but this appears more to be an exercise in the optics of listening than in actually hearing the concerns of families and addressing them,” said Broten.
“This summer, I was talking to a man who told me about his family’s experience in seniors care. We were talking about the quality of care and he told me his dad asked him ‘is this really how it all ends?’ That’s the heartbreaking reality of seniors care under this government’s watch. They simply must do better.”
In the Long Term Care Review results presented for the Cypress Health Region, listed the following findings:
WHAT IS WORKING WELL:
• Extensive Eden* Training completed – each facility is choosing how to implement.
• Residents/families state that for the most part they are grateful for the way their family member is treated.
• Resident councils existing or well underway in majority of facilities.
• Want more activities, especially on the weekend.
• Residents do not have independent access to the outdoors.
• Residents want internet access.
• Only get one bath per week and if staff work short may miss bath that week.
• Lack of knowledge/expertise about gerontology/long term care.
SEIU-West is currently completing a comprehensive read of the results, but highlight that safe staffing levels should be the top priority.
“We are relieved that the voices of the many residents in long term care and their health care providers resonated in a number of the health regions. We see both Heartland and Saskatoon Health Regions have clearly identified the challenges associated with the delivery of hands-on care in safe manner where staffing levels are inadequate. We are hopeful that their openness will lend to real solutions in the form of additional funding. Presently, numerous Health Regions are faced with overwhelming budget deficits so this must be considered” said Barbara Cape, President of SEIU-West.
“SEIU-West members have been dedicated in their efforts to report to us when they are constantly being required to work under unsafe staffing levels and we have attempted to share our information with the health regions, as well as, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Rural and Remote Health,” continued Cape. “It is the goal of our members to provide caring, timely, attention to the residents in their long term care facilities. They just need an increase in staff hours per resident to match the complexity of care requirements.”
An SEIU-West press release noted they will continue to identify problem areas for the health regions and the Ministers in response to membership information received daily.
“We began to take a real look at staffing levels when essential service staffing levels were being put forward by health regions that went way beyond what our members see each work day. Our more recent concerns have been that our government is planning to introduce Summary Offence Ticketing (SOT’s) which includes issuing fines to workers when they fail to meet safety regulations; this becomes a real problem and quite unfair in an industry where safe staffing levels are compromised daily,” Cape noted.