Takeovers a way off for care facilities in Victoria, Nanaimo

Island Health continues to use its own nurses and care aides to bolster staffing levels at two Retirement Concepts seniors homes in Victoria and Nanaimo, but has yet to finalize plans to take over entire units at the facilities.

The health authority said in a statement that it’s still working on the details of how to staff units of about 30 beds each at Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria and Nanaimo Seniors Village.

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“We are working towards this goal,” the statement said.

“Currently, we are finalizing agreements with our union partners so that we can put the plan in motion.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced last week that the health authority would staff units at the two facilities for up to 90 days. He said the move would allow Retirement Concepts to redeploy its own people to boost staffing levels elsewhere in the facilities. “I think, clearly, they’re having issues at both places, so we felt it absolutely necessary to stabilize care and to intervene in this way,” Dix said.

The move followed the appointment of an administrator to run Retirement Concepts’ Comox Valley Seniors Village in Courtenay amid multiple allegations of neglect, abuse, disease outbreaks and staffing shortages.

The Times Colonist requested details on the number of people that Island Health is deploying to the Nanaimo and Victoria facilities, but the health authority said the numbers vary from shift to shift, depending on the level of support required at each facility on a given day.

“Island Health is focusing shift callouts primarily on casual and part-time employees as we ensure appropriate staffing at all Island Health facilities,” the agency said.

Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, confirmed in an interview that the takeover of entire units has yet to take place.

“We are working with them through some of the considerable complexities of that approach, which can’t really be underestimated,” she said. “We’re not quite there yet, and I understand that the health authority continues to send [its] staff to supplement the staff at Nanaimo Seniors Village and is commencing to do the same at Selkirk.”

The HEU represents care aides working for Island Health as well as care aides and licensed practical nurses at the Retirement Concepts’ sites in Nanaimo and Victoria.

“My guess would be that there’s a considerable amount of overtime going in to managing this crisis,” Whiteside said.

“We know there are parts of the health-care system that run on a lot of overtime, and this would certainly be one of them.”

Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union, said nurses working at Island Health’s long-term care facilities are being offered additional work at the Retirement Concepts’ homes in Victoria and Nanaimo.

“Nurses are very empathetic, so I suspect nurses will want to help out,” she said. “The problem that we have is that this issue with these two sites is really an indication of a much larger problem. “There’s a chronic nursing shortage everywhere and most of the long-term care nurses that I speak with are already stretched.”

Sorensen said one of the risks is that nurses will get ill or injured while doing extra shifts at these other facilities and then be unable to work at their home site.

“This is a short-term, band-aid solution,” she said. “This is not a long-term solution for long-term care in the province.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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