CALGARY – One fifth of the staff at McKenzie Town Care Centre have tested positive for COVID-19, a situation that has their union calling for big changes to the way the province handles staffing in the long-term care sector.
CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill wrote to Health Minister Tyler Shandro suggesting detailed measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Gill’s letter said current rules allowing workers to move from facility to facility, while still leaving most seniors’ facilities dangerously short staffed, were not sufficient.
“The absence of a fifth of the employees is life-threatening for residents,” wrote Gill. “Normal guidelines concerning nutrition, hygiene, and recreation cannot be implemented if there is no staff to do it, let alone COVID-specific protocols for isolation and deep-cleaning.”
Gill called on the Kenney government to implement a province wide staffing strategy for nursing facilities. Among the most needed reforms is an end to the practice of staff working at more than one facility at a time.
“According to preliminary survey data, 37% of long-term care workers work in more than one site,” said Gill. “This mobility is creating a very dangerous situation.”
“Your government should create the conditions for a quick and coordinated response that ensures that workers are not penalized,” wrote Gill.
Gill said some individual facilities are preventing staff from working elsewhere, but that without provincial co-ordination, the efforts will likely fall short or fail completely. And unless wages are increased, short staffing will continue to be a problem during the crisis.
“We are in this mess because of low wages and poor working conditions,” said Gill. “A successful strategy to get out of it requires a wage subsidy to increase and level wages across the sector.”
CUPE wants changes similar to those enacted in British Columbia, requiring a re-structuration of staffing practices and a rapid reorganization of the workforce. “These goals need to be accomplished without punishing health-care workers in the front-lines.”