As numbers of positive COVID-19 cases increase at Acropolis Manor the Prince Rupert seniors and long-term care facility, a local man is voicing concerns regarding the Northern Health practice of recruiting staff on a temporary basis from locations as far away as Toronto and possibly further.
As of January 25, Northern Health said the initial number of COVID-19 cases declared in the Acropolis outbreak have risen from four residents and three staff to now, seven days later, being 20 residents and 12 staff – 32 in total.
Terry Sawka told The Northern View he visited his mother every day prior to the COVID-19 outbreak announced on Jan. 19. Recently he said he has had personal interactions and conversations with nurses and staff in the long-term care facility who are working in Prince Rupert on short-term contracts through agencies.
Sawka said even prior to COVID-19 he has spoken to nurses from Kelowna, Vancouver, and last week one from Toronto who have all indicated they were hired through an agency on temporary contracts. Sawka said one nurse he spoke to even came to Prince Rupert while she was on vacation from her permanent job.
“It is concerning that they are bringing nurses in – even if COVID-19 protocols are carried out,” Sawka said, “Bringing nurses all the way across the country and Northern Health picks up the tab.”
Sawka said he tried speaking to Acropolis staff about his concerns but was told they couldn’t assist. He was provided a 1-877 number to call instead to voice his concerns.
Sawka believes the problem possibly stems from the structure of the staffing model. He said he has been told there are full-time jobs, full-time/part-time jobs, and casual nurse jobs. He said one health care assistant he spoke to worked part-time at another place of employment outside of the health field because she could not get enough hours to support herself at the hospital.
“We hear about the shortages of nurses, but is it a real shortage or just the way they are scheduled?” he said.
Eryn Collins, communications manager for Northern Health said while she can not speak about individual staff or situations, it should be no surprise that nurses are brought into the area as the health authority has been transparent about that.
“Northern Health has long acknowledged there have been nurse staffing challenges for quite some time,” Collins told The Northern View. “This is not just isolated to the North, but is prevalent in other areas as well.”
To assist with some of the staffing issues Northern Health has an internal travel nurse program where nurses can be deployed from various hospitals within the health authority’s jurisdiction to work in other locations where needed. As well, there are nursing agencies that can provide fully qualified staff across the country or internationally if needed.
Collins said neither of these programs is new and both existed and were utilized pre-COVID-19.
“It’s all about ensuring that we are providing ongoing quality care if we have a need for nursing staff when we don’t have those staff on hand to cover either vacations, leave. or whatever the need. We do rely on agency nurses to a degree to staff those positions.”
Collins likened the transfer of nurses to that of locum doctors being utilized from a staffing pool to fill in for a local doctor.
“These are skilled, qualified, essential workers who have clear protocols to follow,” Collins said. “Of all the people to be worried about, nurses should not be any of them.”
Sawka said using the terminology ‘essential workers’ shouldn’t be an excuse.
“They can call it a rose, but it’s not a rose. We have a situation that is ongoing,” he said. “Do these incoming staff self-isolate for 14 days when they get here — because coronavirus doesn’t pick and choose who it attaches itself to.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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