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Care workers rally to demand more staff

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CUPE workers say care is being compromised because of short-staffing.

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CUPE workers say care is being compromised because of short-staffing. Photo Store

Nursing-home workers claim inadequate staffing at Manitoba facilities is hurting patient care and contributing to staff injury and burnout.

Increasingly, long-term-care facilities are working short-handed -- not replacing staff who have called in sick or away due to other reasons, frontline employees and their unions say.

On Tuesday, about 100 care-home workers and union reps staged a protest at the Manitoba Legislative Building to call attention to the situation.

"This is not a sector that will be working to rule to prove their point to the employer. And that's because they're caring for other human beings, our loved ones," said Kelly Moist, Manitoba president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. "The employer knows that and therefore doesn't bring in additional staff, forcing our members to work short-staffed and injure themselves. And we're not going to stand for it anymore."

Basic patient services are affected, staff and union reps said.

"People are not being (taken to the bathroom) on time. People maybe are not getting up for breakfast on time. And the girls are always running to play catch up," said Terry Rear, a scheduling clerk and former health-care aide at Fred Douglas Lodge.

"We see higher rates of injury to employees because they're trying to do the job of two or three people who aren't there," Rear said.

Michele Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, which represents 7,500 long-term-care workers, said the problem has been getting progressively worse.

"It used to be once a week, once a weekend, then it became once a day, and now it's becoming once a shift where you're working at least one person short all of the time," she said.

Health Minister Erin Selby said Manitoba has some of the best long-term-care staffing standards in the country. Here, patients are to receive at least 3.6 hours of care per day, she said. On average, they receive 3.75 hours.

"If that's not happening, I want to hear about it, because we do provide funding to allow for that level of care and that level of staffing," said Selby, who was named health minister in a cabinet shuffle 12 days ago.

Lori Lamont, vice-president and chief nursing officer with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said the region receives quarterly reports from nursing homes that track staffing levels based on payroll records. It also conducts regular and surprise visits to check on service standards. She said while staffing levels can fluctuate, nursing homes generally abide by the 3.6-hour standard.

If the delivery of nursing-home care is already straining resources, as the unions suggest, the problem will only get worse as the population ages. In 2011, seniors made up 14 per cent of Manitoba's population; by 2036 they may account for 22.5 per cent, a recent estimate shows.

A report by the left-wing Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives questions whether the standard of 3.6 hours per resident per day is sufficient. A study commissioned by the U.S. Congress found a minimum of 4.1 hours of care per resident is required to avoid jeopardizing the health and care of residents in long-term-care homes, the CCPA pointed out Tuesday.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2013 A9

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