An order restricting long-term care workers to one site didn’t come into force as originally planned because the province needed more time to work with operators, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Thursday.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw issued her order on April 10 to restrict staff to working at only one nursing home, designated supported living home or auxiliary hospital by April 23.
The majority of Albertans who have died of COVID-19 were in long-term care, representing 44 of the 68 deaths in the province. The intention of Hinshaw’s order was to prevent workers who work at multiple sites from spreading the virus.
At her daily update on Thursday, Hinshaw said facility operators needed more time to have all their questions answered. She wouldn’t say when the order would be in place, suggesting that would occur when the facilities were ready.
“We anticipate that we will be able to move relatively quickly into implementation but we will be in close communications with operators with respect to when they can anticipate that there there may be enforcement in place,” she said.
The decision to take the date off Hinshaw’s order was made yesterday, presumably after her afternoon update, when she was asked about a grievance filed by the United Nurses of Alberta.
Hinshaw said details were being worked out. A couple of hours later AHS confirmed Thursday’s date had been taken off her order.
Alberta’s inability to enact the one-site rule speaks to the nature of its long-term care system. While some facilities are publicly funded and operated, most are run by for-profit companies.
Union representatives say many people work part-time, meaning they have to work at multiple facilities to accumulate full-time hours.
The province is currently compiling a database of the approximately 30,000 long-term care workers to track where they are working, and for how many hours, according to Wayne Morishita, executive director of the Alberta Continuing Care Association, which represents private, for-profit continuing care operators.
The delay in implementing the one-site rule is due to the work being done on that database, which is required for scheduling staff, Morishita said.
His members, not the province, will be making the call on who should work where, he added.
“While the ministry is collecting the data and providing that information, it’s going to be the operators that are going to ultimately decide,” he said. “Like — is this working for our site? Are we adequately staffed?
“Do we need additional staff? Do we need to move staff to another site?”
Unions who represent workers in privately-run facilities say Alberta’s reluctance to take over staffing and pay a standard wage across the province, as in B.C., has the potential to create chaos because facilities will be short-staffed, leaving vulnerable people without proper care.
While the provincial government has worked with the operators, union leaders say the voices of their members, who are on the frontlines of dealing with COVID-19, have been left out of the process.
“We need to have the province step in and properly manage this,” said Rory Gill, president of CUPE Alberta, which represents about 5,000 long-term care workers. “And the way do you properly manage that you engage with the people who are doing the work.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees represents 17,000 long-term care workers. AUPE president Guy Smith says the complexity and fragmentation of Alberta’s long-term care system is why the province is struggling with enacting the one-site rule.
“I don’t think the government realized how complicated it was,” Smith said.
“We could have provided some solutions but instead they they didn’t do that and now they’re left with a lot of confusion and lack of clarity and lack of direction.
Gill says a standard wage could help retain existing staff and attract new workers. But he thinks Alberta’s United Conservative government doesn’t want to go that route because it would acknowledge there are problems with existing system.
“They don’t want to admit that wages are an issue,” he said.
“They don’t want to admit that the privatization model doesn’t work.”
Morishita says Alberta Health, AHS and operators are working as quickly as possible to get one-site rule in place
“We all realize that it is it is something that needs to be done to ensure the safety of everyone,” he said.