Some staff of New Horizons Care Home, their union and family members of those living in the facility are crying foul again after what they say is a proposal by the facility’s operator to cut staff hours beginning in the new year.
This week they took to the streets, town hall forums and city council chambers to express their displeasure.
Meanwhile, New Horizons management says the allegations being put forth by the union are inaccurate.
An informal gathering of concerned parties gathered along 16th Avenue beside the facility on Wednesday to discuss the matter.
Two days before, Lois Jarvis, representing Campbell River Citizens for Quality Health Care – a group devoted to ensuring adequate healthcare facilities in the region – and Barb Biley, regional vice-president of the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) for Vancouver Island North, who represent the employees of New Horizons, presented their views on the topic at the last meeting of the calendar year of Campbell River city council.
Jarvis and Biley were asking council to write a letter to Dr. Brian Carr, president and CEO of Island Health and Health Minister Terry Lake to request a review and investigation into the alleged cuts, “and the negative impacts they will have on our vulnerable seniors.”
“The profit model that is being used in seniors’ care facilities is proving to be a total failure,” Jarvis told council. “Individuals should not be profiting from residential care. We object to our tax dollars being used to provide inadequate care for our seniors and a lower standard of employment for their caregivers.”
While some people see it simply as a dispute present in many businesses – employees arguing with management over staffing levels – and not something worthy of public or political discussion, Jarvis feels differently.
“This is not just a union/management issue,” she told council. “It is about care being provided to our seniors in their final years,” which she sees as a social responsibility.
And that care is threatened with the upcoming cuts to hours at the facility, according to the HEU.
A letter recently sent out to residents of New Horizons and their families, signed by Sandra Murphy, director of care at the facility, seems to disagree.
“There are no layoffs or reduction in direct care hours at New Horizons Care Home as claimed by the HEU,” reads the letter.
In the letter, Murphy outlines the upcoming changes in scheduling, saying they actually improve the work environment for staff, improve care for residents, “and also meet the health authority’s care model for increased hours by registered nurses.”
Murphy’s letter admits that under the new schedule there are fewer hours available for resident care aids (RCAs), but insists that it is offset by the increased hours being assigned to Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), “with the same budget being spent on providing an excellent standard of professional care to all New Horizons residents.”
Laurel Albina, marketing representative with HEU, said at Wednesday’s meeting that they can’t speak to the hours of LPNs and registered nurses, but the cuts to RCAs are “significant.”
HEU claims that in the two years since Care Corp has taken over operations at New Horizons, there has been a 63 per cent staff turnover rate, which is indicative of the conditions of their employment. Staff turnover also negatively impacts residents’ quality of life, as they are unable to form bonds with their care workers when they lack continuity, Biley says.
“There’s a relationship that develops – a loving relationship between the caregivers and the people they’re caring for – and that’s continually being broken with the turnover. It’s not healthy for the residents.”
Murphy’s letter, however, claims that continuity will actually increase under the new scheduling, as the schedules are designed to have staff cover the same shift every day.
“Our caregivers welcome this change,” the letter reads, “since they can better schedule their lives around a standard shift.
“Our residents enjoy the consistency of seeing the same caregivers at the same time each day.”
Rachel Blaney, MP for North Island–Powell River, also stopped by the meeting on Wednesday at New Horizons.
She’s in town while the House of Commons is on break over the holidays, and said that although healthcare is a provincial responsibility, it’s her responsibility as the area’s federal representative to keep abreast of the concerns of her constituents.
“I just wanted to come down and hear from people about what is happening,” Blaney said. “It sounds like there are some concerns here, and I’m open to hearing more about those concerns.”
Those concerns were possibly expressed most explicitly by Ken Palmblad, whose mother lives at the New Horizons facility.
He and his wife come over from Quadra frequently to visit his mother, and says he has seen first hand the deterioration of services over the years.
“I’d rather be dead than be in there,” he said at the information meeting on the side of 16th Avenue on Wednesday.
“I’m serious. From what I’ve seen, the people that are working there, that are on the floors, they’re getting their butts run off, and they’re great, but there’s just not enough people.”
HEU, more than anything else at this point, thinks there needs to be better communication around the subject of staffing requirements and expenditures.
“We had a meeting set up (with management) that was cancelled, and our follow up calls wouldn’t be committed to,” Albina said.
“I think that some transparency and open communication is exactly what’s needed from Care Corp and Park Place at this point, so people know what they’re dealing with going forward.”