'Residents are dying alone,' nursing home workers ask for wage increase to help staffing crisis

During a virtual news conference on Monday, the union representing workers in many of New Brunswick's nursing homes is urging premier Blaine Higgs to fix the current "staffing crisis" in nursing homes across the province.

The union is asking that the premier immediately increase their pay by $4 an hour. Sharon Teare, the president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, which represents 51 of 70 nursing homes in the province, says several locations across the province have been operating with 50 per cent of their staff or less, which doesn't allow them to prioritize those in their care.

"Now, we're at a point where retention and recruitment are crippling the sector and it can no longer function," said Teare.

She said many staff members are working double or triple shifts, while some are showing up to work while injured.

According to Teare, the current average wage of a CUPE member working in a senior's home in the province is $21.50.

CUPE New Brunswick communications representative Simon Oullette said "members, workers are already voting with their feet, retiring early, having to go on sick leave because of burn out, or leaving the field completely."

During Monday's news conference, workers spoke about how these issues not only affect them but also the vulnerable people in their care.

"What happens? Those residents who are dying alone that are in palliative care because they do not have the hands to ensure palliative measures are applied. And that's not OK. Residents are not getting their breakfasts because of being short-staffed."

The Department of Social Development responded to CTV's request for a comment from the premier saying it takes the concerns raised by the N.B. Council of Nursing Home Unions very seriously and that the department is working with its partners including " Department of Health, and the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, to look at potential solutions.

"This is one of the reasons government provided a $15-million increase to its annual budget to expand the hours of care to 3.3 hours by April 2022."

In its statement, the department also said: "as per the six-year bargaining agreement, formally adopted in May 2019, a 5.5 per cent wage increase was agreed upon over a four-year term – most of it retroactive – for employees."

But Teare believes the change has to happen soon. Due to extreme staffing shortages residents are not getting their breakfasts and are not always able to get bathed once a week, she said.

"Residents have the right to at least have a bath once a week, not every two weeks."

Without change or an increase in wages, workers say they are scared for what's to come.

"The cost of doing nothing is much greater than the cost of fixing the problem," said Oulette.