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N.B. Nursing Homes Facing Staff Crunch

Recruitment and retention issues are clogging up system: experts

Recruiting and retaining medical staff in New Brunswick nursing homes is becoming increasingly difficult and is contributing to chronic overcrowding in hospitals across the province, an industry expert says.

A staff shortage recently forced at least one nursing home, Moncton’s Villa du Repos, to delay the opening of a new 60-bed wing. Meanwhile, Stanley’s Nashwaak Villa resorted to an outside-the-box solution, creating a new on-call shift, where a nurse spends the night sleeping at the facility and is only pressed into service if needed.

The staffing crunch worries Jodi Hall, executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.

“There’s a lot of work that we need to do to better understand, ‘What are the barriers for recruitment and ongoing retention in the nursing home workforce?’” she said. “Clearly, if we can’t figure that out, there’ll be a lot of other issues that we’ll be dealing with as a result.”

At the nursing home association’s recent annual general meeting in Fredericton, Hall said a resolution was passed to study the problem, with hopes that by understanding why members of the care team – specifically registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and personal support workers – have been in such short supply, they’ll be be able to change the trend.

Anne Mooers, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Development, said the provincial government is aware of the issues and working closely with stakeholders.

“Like many sectors, employee retention and recruitment issues occur from time to time. The department is implementing a new and modern process that will address some of the challenges,” she said, explaining that technology is helping the sector gather better information about the needs of nursing home residents.

With this new data, nursing homes may be able to change the skill mix of their care teams, employing the right combination of nurses, licensed practical nurses and personal support workers for their facilities, she said.

New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions president Wayne Brown, who represents staff in 45 nursing homes, said he’s been told by his members that there are 559 New Brunswick seniors waiting for placement in nursing homes across the province. Of that total, 342 are in acute-care beds in provincial hospitals.

“It’s really bad in the Moncton area, where we have 172 seniors waiting for placement in nursing homes,” he said. “The workload in nursing homes is significant.

“When I first started [34 years ago], most residents didn’t require the acuity of the care they need now. When seniors are coming into the homes [now], they’re not in the shape they were years and years ago.”

The New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes has asked nursing home staff to share their thoughts in a survey. The association is also reaching out to training institutions to try to explain to prospective caregivers the opportunities available within the aging-care industry.

Until then, many nursing home administrators have developed creative solutions.

Daphne Noonan, executive director of the Nashwaak Villa nursing home in Stanley, said she’s dealt with staffing struggles over the past couple of years. Her home is legally required to have a registered nurse on-site at all times, she said, and that mandate can occasionally pose challenges.

“If we have unexpected absences, such as illnesses or a vacant position, it can be difficult,” she said.

Noonan said Nashwaak Villa created a new on-call shift, where a nurse will spend the night sleeping at the facility.

“They’re present on site and if they’re needed they can be woken and pressed into service. We’ll pay them for the hours that they work,” she said. “It’s kind of like being on call, but being in the building while they’re on call.”

Often, when she finds a potential new hire, she loses them to more enticing opportunities in other facilities.

“Typically, you’re trying to recruit people for casual hours,” she said.“But then, if another position comes up somewhere else, they’ll want to take it and work more hours.”

While staffing issues are a challenge, Noonan believes the problem can be solved.

“Of course I’d be worried if I didn’t think we could solve it, but I think we can. We’re going to solve this together. This is an interesting time. We’re all working on this together,” she said. “The government is being proactive on a lot of things now. I think there are opportunities for us to become leaders in aging care.”

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