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N.B. nursing home unions seek $4-an-hour wage hike to address labour shortages


By Kevin Bissett

FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions is calling on the provincial government to increase wages for workers in long-term care homes in an effort to address a “crippling” staffing shortage that they say is leaving seniors with inadequate care.

Council president Sharon Teare told reporters Monday her group’s proposed $4-an-hour wage increase would help attract and keep workers in the understaffed homes.

“We need to bring staff into the system to ensure that our most vulnerable seniors in the nursing homes of New Brunswick are provided a quality of life and not compromised care,” she said. Retention and recruitment of staff was a crisis long before the COVID-19 pandemic started, she added, but now it is “crippling the sector.”

Teare said most long-term care homes in the province are missing at least half their required employees. She said residents in palliative care are dying alone because there are not enough staff. Other residents are not getting a weekly bath.

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“Meals are being missed because staff are running to answer bells from residents who are crawling out of bed. You have to answer that bell, because that resident could be at risk of falling and breaking a hip or a fatality because you weren’t there to answer that bell,” she said.

“There is no longer a home in nursing homes. We are just struggling to house our seniors, and that is not OK,” Teare said, adding that some staff are quitting because they can no longer watch the situation deteriorate.

Teare said the average hourly wage for nursing home workers in New Brunswick is $21, a rate she says is among the lowest in the country for the sector.

She said the federal Liberals promised last month before they won the election that they would spend $9 billion to address shortfalls in the country’s long-term care sector and she called on the province to do its part.

Teare said receiving the federal funds requires co-operation from the provincial government.

“(Premier Blaine) Higgs should not waste any more time to improve the situation of workers and wait to be the last one to act, like he did on child care funding,” she said.

The Department of Social Development provided a written statement Monday, saying it takes the concerns raised by the council seriously.

“We know that staff in long-term care facilities have worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize and appreciate the hard work that they do each day to protect and care for our most vulnerable seniors,” the statement said.

It goes on to say it is working to address staffing issues. The statement notes the department got a $15-million budget increase to expand daily care to 3.3 hours per resident by April 2022. It says the latest collective agreement adopted in May 2019 included a 5.5 per cent wage increase for nursing home workers over the first four years — most of it retroactive — and a two per cent increase in years five and six.

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