Health Care facilities employing new strategy to address staff shortages

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Barry’s Bay – Some long-term care facilities in Renfrew County are adapting to staff shortages in their respective locations and others have plans in place to address the situation by bringing in trained workers from Southern Ontario to meet the need.   

Staff from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) are already in place at some facilities while the administration at other facilities in the county are prepared to do the same if the need arises in their facilities.

Trisha Deslauriers, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Valley Manor, told the Leader some staff there have been brought in from the GTA to address shortages and that is not uncommon at present at other similar locations. The need there was solely for more Personal Support Workers with Ms. Deslauriers noting the shortages are related to the government’s mandated vaccination policy.

“We usually reach out to local agencies in the community, but they’re all being utilized by other healthcare facilities right now,” she explained. “So, we received this company’s name from another healthcare agency that were using them locally.

“A lot of them come from Southern Ontario and they come up and they’re housed up here and they work,” she added.

Ms. Deslauriers said there are approximately six of these PSWs on staff at present. She said while they did not lose any Registered Practical Nurses oo Registered Nurses, they also brought on a few external people to backfill those rolls so existing staff could take their holidays.

She noted a new policy is in the works that will require all staff, students, caregivers and volunteers to show proof of a third vaccination/ booster by January 28. The remainder of those people will have to show proof of their third shot by March 14.

“Some people, depending on when they got their dose, they have to wait a certain amount of time in between,” she said.

Ms. Deslaurier said the most recent legislation could possibly create further shortages.

“Some people are getting tired . . . we’ve done what we had to do, and now we have to do it again,” she remarked. “That’s not me saying that but that’s how some of the staff are reacting.”

She said 99 percent of all current staff have their second shots.

“Now, we have to get everybody to have their third dose,” she noted. “We have about 50 percent with their third dose right now.”

Ms. Deslaurier said local staff are appreciative of the assistance they are receiving from the new PSWs.

“They appreciate the assistance, absolutely,” she remarked. “More hands make less work.”

She said the lodging for these personnel is included in their contracts and the government has provided funding assistance in their Prevention and Containment Funding program.

Ms. Deslaurier said the newer personnel joined the staff in early November, prior to the November 15, 2021 mandated vaccine policy going into effect.

“We wanted them trained and ready to go if we lost staff,” she said.

She said they are doing everything possible to keep the morale up, admitting it’s been challenging at times.

“We knew we were going to end up here again, right?” she said. “But we’re still staffing at safe levels.

“Are we going to be losing more staff in March if they refuse to get third doses?” she pondered. “I’m not sure.”

Ms. Deslaurier said in addition to the loss of the PSWs, they have also lost personnel in other departments, including activities, accounting, dietary, housekeeping and maintenance, again because of the vaccine mandate.

“They have been replaced by people internally,” she explained.      

Exploring Options At Marianhill

Linda Tracey, CEO at Marianhill in Pembroke, said while they have not yet had to bring in other staff, she has definitely been exploring the options.

“As part of our plan in the pandemic, I have an obligation to ensure the safe care of the residents and am absolutely exploring options if we get a situation. And currently, the only agency staff available is from Southern Ontario.”

“I haven’t been in touch with them yet and haven’t started talking with them, but I know I have to have something ready if this goes sideways,” she added.

She said there are a lot of reasons that exist for the situation, adding their shortage is not necessarily with PSWs.

“We are maintaining the care with PSWs, but we’re struggling with Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs),” she noted.

She said some RPNs and RNs have left their nursing careers, and hospitals have stepped up recruiting. In addition, she said the fact recruitment from colleges was very limited last year added to the problem.

“We’re hoping to be able to recruit out of the graduating class this year,” she said. “And I am happy to say that I have put in an application with Immigration Canada for temporary foreign workers as well.

“But we’re holding our own here,” she added.

She said while bringing in workers from Southern Ontario is an option, if the homes hit critical mass here in the county, it will likely happen earlier than that in Southern Ontario and workers may not be available.

“So, our current plan without them is the re-deployment of people to the essential roles. I have a lot of administrative staff that will be deployed if we ever get to that, but we just haven’t had to yet. We’re testing everybody, every day, when they start their shift.”

She said they have 100 percent compliance from staff for the vaccines at present.

County Homes Have Required No Outside Staff

Michael Blackmore, the Director of Long-Term Care for the County of Renfrew and the administrator at Miramichi Lodge in Pembroke, said no extra staff from outside the area have been required at either Miramichi or the other county-operated home, Bonnechere Manor in Renfrew.

“We’re not at that point as yet,” he said Monday afternoon. “Certainly, we have experienced some staff shortages, but nothing at a crisis level, so far.

“It’s not been the case, fortunately, for us, at the moment, but I recognize we are expecting cases to continue,” he added. “But so far, so good.”

Mr. Blackmore said the facilities go short on staff occasionally, including pre-COVID.

“In long-term care it’s always been the case where sometimes you run short. We have experienced highs and lows, where we have some days worse than others, but no one day has been at a level where we couldn’t manage, so far.

“And there’s a variety of reasons throughout long-term care why people were off,” he added. “And part of it is, of course, there are people who are unvaccinated who remain on these leaves of absence and that certainly is a factor. No question.”    

Mr. Blackmore said the idea of bringing in outside help is a possibility they might consider, but the situation has not reached that point yet.                    

Shortage of Nursing Recruits

Julia Boudreau, CEO at both Renfrew Victoria Hospital (RVH) and St. Francis Memorial Hospital (SFMH) in Barry’s Bay, said the shortages in personnel is not uncommon .

“Like nearly every other hospital in the region, we have had to bring in some, what we refer to as agency nurses, both at RVH and SFMH,” she said. “It’s very limited actually.

“We have out at RVH and we have one at SFMH,” she added. “So we’ve been holding our own pretty well.”

She noted, however, Omicron is causing an added layer of complexity with staff having to self-isolate with the incidents of Omicron cases in the community.

“We are certainly hoping as Omicron settles we will be able to end the contracts with the agency nurses this winter,” she remarked.

Ms. Boudreau said there are several factors that have led to the shortages.

“I’d say it’s the case of it being the perfect storm in the sense there has been so many factors. We’ve been facing difficulty with the regard to the recruitment of nurses for a long time and this is now just the icing on the cake, if you will, in terms of pushing it over.

“Certainly, the mandate with regard to vaccination hasn’t helped us, but there have been other factors at play as well,” she added. “The wonderful thing is, if we could put a spin on it, is that we have a need immediately for more nursing graduates coming out of school and that’s really the message we have to get out there.”

She said the number of nurses needed to replace those retiring, or moving to another career, just isn’t meeting the demand at present. In addition to virtually no intake of graduates last year, it has been difficult to bring the students in for the clinical portion of their studies with the various COVID waves restricting access to the hospitals at numerous times in the past two years.           

“So, coupled with the fact they couldn’t graduate, they also are not getting their clinical experience,” she stated. “It’s definitely a concern for the next few years.”