Seniors, disabilities groups back HEU’s bargaining demand for more staff in long-term care

While seniors and people with disabilities advocacy groups rally to support the Hospital Employees’ Union’s bargaining demand to substantially increase staffing levels in long-term care, health care employers are saying that staff just need to spend more time on the job.

A panel of representatives from the advocacy groups expressed strong support for HEU’s position at a special luncheon event held on Feb. 20 in Vancouver.

The endorsements came on the heels of a research report released by HEU which shows current staffing levels in B.C.’s long-term care facilities don’t come even close to meeting the basic daily care needs of residents, and in some cases fall below levels required to avoid serious harm. Another recently-published report by the U.S. Congress backs up the assertion that in order to provide the care that seniors and the disabled in long-term care need and deserve, it is absolutely essential to increase staffing ratios.

Secretary business-manager Chris Allnutt says HEU has made staffing levels a top-priority issue in contract talks with health employers since bargaining began in January. “This support from the advocacy groups is a real boost for our efforts to establish appropriate staffing levels. It will help focus attention on the scope of the problem and realistic solutions to solve it.” But Gary Moser, of the Health Employers Association of B.C., claims that the way to solve the staffing problem is to make care providers work more by taking away vacation and sick leave entitlements.

Panelist Heather Davis, a Care Aide at Holyrood Manor in the Fraser Valley, couldn’t disagree more. “On a typical morning shift I have eight minutes to prepare each of the residents in my care for breakfast. I wash them, get them dressed, help them to the bathroom, brush their teeth or put in their dentures. This just is not realistic. It’s demeaning for them, and we injure ourselves a lot,” she said.

The second part of the event featured guest speaker Louise Ryan, assistant ombudsperson for long-term care for Washington State. Ryan talked about the strong, multi-faceted advocacy role that the U.S. government-mandated Office of the Ombudsperson plays in improving the care provided in the state’s mostly for-profit nursing homes.