Chaos looms as continuing-care facilities brace for COVID-19: AUPE

Staff shortages on horizon, workers fear care guidelines being ignored

EDMONTON – Many continuing care facilities in Alberta are in a state of chaos as they prepare for COVID-19 to sweep through, says the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

“Staffing changes being implemented by a variety of employers today are causing confusion and hardship for many of our members,” said Mike Dempsey, vice-president of AUPE, which represents more than 95,000 members, including nursing care and general support services workers in continuing care.

“Meanwhile, our members are telling us that some facilities are not taking appropriate measures to protect residents or staff from exposure to the virus.

“We fear these sudden staffing changes will lead to critical shortages at some facilities, putting residents and patients at risk,” said Dempsey. “They will also mean that many of these health-care heroes who are risking their lives to go to work will suffer dramatic loss of income.”

Many employees at care facilities work multiple jobs at more than one care site. This is because many employers have been reluctant to offer full-time work at fair wages. This means workers take two or three part-time jobs to make ends meet.

These workers are now being told they can work in only one facility to reduce the risk of the virus being spread between facilities. However, some will lose their second job permanently and many will not be able to get the same number of hours working at only one location.

“We recognize the need to stop the spread of COVID-19, but it’s wrong to tell workers putting their lives on the line to take a cut in pay or lose a long-term job. We should be rewarding them, not punishing them,” said Dempsey.

“What will happen to those facilities that lose staff because workers choose to keep their other job? Who will care of the residents when they leave? They’re already working short because of illness and self-isolation.”

The looming staffing chaos is only part of the problem.

“The workers are doing their very best, but we’re hearing horror stories. At one facility, a resident tested positive for COVID-19, but staff say they weren’t informed for days.”

Tests for the virus have not been ordered for some of the workers who fear they were exposed. At some facilities there is no screening or temperature tests for workers as they begin their shifts, said Dempsey.

“This is not an isolated incident. It is part of a pattern affecting many facilities. We’ve seen from the death in care facilities in B.C., the U.S. and in Spain how critical this is. This situation needs to be addressed now in a way that protects residents and workers.”

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