110 staff to lose jobs in Nanaimo care-home sale

A Nanaimo seniors home that laid off its staff two years ago and rehired at lower wages is being sold and about 110 staff members have been given layoff notices.

The notices, effective in September, were handed out late Friday to staff at Wexford Creek Care Home, which opened in 2008.

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Wexford includes 110 residential care beds — including about 30 spaces for people with dementia — and 40 assisted-living units. Most of the spaces are paid for by Island Health.

The layoff notice affects Hospital Employees’ Union members, including nurses, housekeeping, maintenance and administration.

The facility is owned by Edmonton-based Good Samaritan Society, which owns 29 care facilities in B.C. and Alberta that serve the elderly, chronically ill and developmentally disabled adults.

Society president Shawn Terlson said in a letter to employees dated April 1 that in its eight years of operation, the Nanaimo care home has not received “any real funding increases.”

Two years ago, the owners said they were forced to terminate staff and hire new employees at reduced pay. The staff later voted to certify as members of HEU.

“Unfortunately, over the past two years, Island Health has not provided us with any significant increase and, despite cutting costs, we have experienced losses that now amount to over $2.6 million, which no charity can sustain,” Terlson said.

Island Health spokeswoman Valerie Wilson said the facility will be monitored to “ensure any changes in staffing or potential ownership are done in an orderly fashion and have no negative impacts on residents’ care.”

Staff were told their last day of employment will be Sept. 30.

The society said it has a conditional agreement to sell Wexford to an unnamed buyer.

All nursing, care services, food services, housekeeping, maintenance, recreation and support administration work at Wexford Creek will be contracted out effective Oct. 1, a memo to staff said. “As a charity, our goal is to further our mission of extending Christian hospitality to those in need or at risk,” Terlson wrote, adding Wexford Creek is the only one of its 29 facilities where the society has been forced to take such measures “because of historic chronic underfunding.”

Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees’ Union, said in an email that its members are upset, not just about their futures but about the impact layoffs will have on residents and their families. Whiteside said of the seven residential-care facilities opened on Vancouver Island since 2008, five have changed hands. “This is clearly not working. It’s not working for seniors and it’s not working for the people who care for them.”

Whiteside called contracting out and ownership changes the “new normal,” undermining quality, stable care for seniors. “The health authority should stop the sale, stop the layoffs and put this facility under direct administration.”

Norm Peters, executive director of residential care for Island Health, said news of the layoff notice was a surprise, since Wexford was believed to be operating at a surplus.

Peters said the health region discussed cost-cutting with Wexford in 2014. “So we would say: ‘You are a not-for-profit and are making a surplus, so we feel you are adequately funded,’” he said.

Julie Williams, communications director for the Good Samaritan Society, confirmed that cost-cutting generated “positive earnings” for the past two years, but said that did not make up for six years of losses.

Kim Slater, chairman of the Vancouver Island Association of Family Councils, which represents member councils from residential-care facilities in the Island Health region, said studies in the U.S. and Canada show disruptions to nursing home staffing almost always result in disruptions for residents. Disruptions have been linked to everything from an increase in bed sores to more frequent use of restraints, greater dispensing of psychoactive drugs, and a decrease in life span, he said.

Slater said long-term, professional staff are more likely to notice small changes that might signal a serious health problem.

Relationships and trust also develop between residents and caregivers when staffing is stable. “These [residential-care facilities] don’t operate very well as assembly lines where you just change up the workers.”

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