Nanaimo seniors care home ‘beyond crisis,’ union says

The Hospital Employees’ Union is calling on Island Health to take control of a second Retirement Concepts care home for seniors.

Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager, said her union has been urging the health authority for weeks to appoint a temporary administrator at the Nanaimo Seniors Village due to chronic staffing shortages at the long-term care facility.

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“The situation is shocking,” she said in an interview. “It really goes beyond a crisis.

“We’ve had experience where our members have been working with drastic shortages, and this absolutely results in situations where it is a struggle to provide basic care to seniors.

“It also is a situation which is very dangerous and risky for the workers who are providing care.”

On Monday, Island Health appointed a temporary administrator at Retirement Concepts’ Comox Valley Seniors Village following complaints from family members and multiple investigations into allegations of staffing shortages, neglect, emotional and physical abuse, and disease outbreaks.

The health authority also revealed concerns about staffing shortages at the company’s Nanaimo Seniors Village and the Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria. Investigations are underway at both sites.

Mark Blandford, executive director of primary care and seniors health at Island Health, said Wednesday that the health authority has assigned its own people — including care aides, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses — to help alleviate the situation in Nanaimo.

“We’re working on how to do that more efficiently and we will be sending more staff,” he said.

But the health authority can’t simply step in and appoint an administrator without giving the operator a chance to fix things, he said.

“Our goal is to get this operator on track, not to take over. That’s not why we have contracts.”

Blandford added that the operator has made a number of efforts to address the problems, including by asking the health authority for help.

“That’s not happened before, and we’re supporting them as best we can right now.”

Jennie Deneka of Pacific Reach Senior Housing Management, which is responsible for the delivery of care and services at Retirement Concepts’ facilities, said the issues in Nanaimo relate to recruiting challenges.

“The entire seniors care sector is experiencing an industry-wide labour shortage across the province and Nanaimo Seniors Village is no different,” she said.

“This has been well documented by the B.C. Care Providers Association [which] is running a provincewide campaign to try to recruit workers into the sector.”

Deneka said Nanaimo Seniors Village has been working with the community, Island Health and others to deal with the staffing issues.

“Unfortunately, our recruitment efforts have been further challenged by [Island Health’s] own recruitment initiatives, including a recent [Island Health] job fair, which attracted staff away from Nanaimo Seniors Village,” she said.

The union, however, said the staff shortages stem in part from the low wages paid to care aides and licensed practical nurses at Nanaimo Seniors Village.

“There’s no question that we have a shortage of care aides generally across the province,” Whiteside said. “We know there are recruitment and retention issues. There are lots of pressures in long-term care.

“But I can tell you that situations such as we are seeing at Nanaimo Seniors Village are absolutely extreme.”

Whiteside added that she has been hearing from union members who are shocked by conditions at the site. “I have to say it is somewhat traumatizing for workers to be in a situation where they are so under-resourced that it is difficult to provide the basic care that seniors need,” she said.

The Hospital Employees’ Union has been urging the provincial government to expand staffing and spending audits at Retirement Concepts facilities and to investigate the possibility of acquiring the sites should they go up for sale.

Retirement Concepts was purchased by Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group in 2017. The actual properties are owned Cedar Tree Investment Canada, an Anbang subsidiary, while Pacific Reach manages the day-to-day operations at the facilities, Deneka said.

Reuters news agency has reported that China’s insurance regulator seized control of Anbang in 2018 to reduce financial risk.

The regulator announced in February that it was extending its control to 2020, the news agency said.

In response to the appointment of an administrator at Comox Valley Seniors Village, Deneka said the facility will work closely with the administrator and Island Health to address concerns.

“Although we have seen improvements, unfortunately, we have been unable to meet compliance to the satisfaction of licensing,” she said.

“We take these issues seriously and have been working proactively with the local community, Vancouver Island Health Authority and stakeholders to address all compliance areas and the concerns raised by family members.

“We understand the concerns raised by families of residents and we have been working with the families and [Island Health] to address all concerns. The health, safety and care of our residents remains our number one priority.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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