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Not caring for the carers leads to devastating nursing home deaths

By Kirstie McAllum


Worldwide, institutional aged care has seen a staggering number of deaths since the COVID outbreak began, although not all deaths have been attributed to the virus itself. The pandemic has brought to light how precarious working conditions in nursing homes compromise personal care assistants’ ability to care for residents.

By mid-May 2020, almost half of the long-term care centers in the province of Quebec, Canada had at least one confirmed case of COVID-19. Yet, staff faced significant challenges in managing the crisis. Staffing levels were pushed to the limit when workers who were infected starting staying home. Unfortunately, shortages were managed by sending asymptomatic temporary agency workers to fill shifts across multiple care centers, causing the virus to spread more rapidly. In some centers, under-staffing meant that management shifted employees between “cold” or uninfected areas to “hot” infected areas of the care center.

Other workers refused to come to work because care centers did not have sufficient supply of masks and face shields. In one particularly tragic case, only two workers remained at a residence responsible for 130 residents. Some of the older adults found alive hadn’t had water, food or a diaper change in three days. To avoid a similar tragedy, another center called patient care workers who had been exposed to COVID-19 back to work before their 14-day quarantine period was up. The risk to workers was deemed to be necessary to avoid leaving older adults without care.

In order to address the staffing shortage and prepare the long-term care system for a potential second wave, Quebec is attempting to hire 10,000 new patient attendants by September. In the interim, the government has sent in the Canadian army, health-care teachers and students, and volunteers to assure basic care – all report that conditions need to change in order to care for staff and residents adequately.

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