Desperate long-term care homes find it difficult to find staff as COVID-19 makes residents and shiftworkers sick


Struggling to fill vacancies for front-line workers, staff at long-term care centers at Rekai Centers called 1,000 former health care trainees to ask for help.

Fourteen agreed. Only eight appeared to work. And we didn’t come back the next day.

“I think overall, people are afraid of being in homes with COVID,” said Sue Graham-Nutter, CEO of Rekai Centers. ” I can understand. It is not easy. “

At Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, an executive emailed licensed practical nurse Meghann Burley, asking if she would take temporary leave and help her former employer, the Pinecrest nursing home in Bobcaygeon, where at least 28 residents died from COVID.

Burley ponders the request for a day, then says yes. It made sense, logically, she said, because unlike so many other health workers, she has no children or older family members living at home.

She returned home in late March, working in the afternoon and morning, wearing glasses, masks, a face shield and gloves.

“I’ve only been there for a week and it’s exhausting emotionally,” she said. “I can’t imagine how the girls who have been there from the start feel. “

Pinecrest has moved residents with the virus to one part of the building and residents who have so far shown no symptoms in another section, she said. Some of the residents Burley cared for before leaving home two years ago have died of the virus, she said. But a dozen older adults with COVID are starting to show signs of improvement as fevers decrease and appetite improves.

Yet working at Pinecrest is “traumatic. It’s not the natural way to have so many dead. “

It is no secret that Ontario does not have enough front-line workers for long-term care homes and their 77,000 residents, many of whom are elderly and ill.

The supply of front-line nurses and personal support workers has long been in crisis. And now, in a pandemic, many homes are desperate.

According to officials from the Canadian Union of Public Employees of Ontario, workers are struggling to keep up with the care of residents, with the loss of infected or isolated staff due to exposure. Some workers are afraid to enter a house where the virus exists, fearing that they may infect their children or parents at home, said CUPE.

Doris Grinspun, President and CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, said years of systemic underfunding with a government that spent the past month chasing COVID outbreaks instead act quickly to prevent them, have resulted in too many infections and deaths.

“This is carnage,” Grinspun said Wednesday after the Toronto Public Health Unit announced that about 100 residents of the City of Toronto’s Seven Oaks Nursing Home are either confirmed or presumed to have COVID. Thirteen employees were positive. At least 16 residents of the house have died.

The Grinspun association is working with Advantage Ontario to match nursing students to homes – as long as operators provide enough protective equipment, said Grinspun. Rekai centers said the RNAO sent e-mail to 1,400 health workers and 15 “agreed to consider” working in a house with COVID.

The call for Rekai centers started on March 23 when academic director Barbara Michalik started sending requests by email and a day later decided to make personal phone calls.

Rekai’s two downtown homes, Wellesley Central Place and Sherbourne Place, were in trouble. Long-tenured workers worked two shifts, placed in nearby hotels so that they did not have to go home where they could infect their families.

Michalik said some of the workers she contacted during those 1,000 phone calls could have been disposed of, but, at the same time, the news announced that Sherbourne Place had an epidemic.

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Amal Tahlil said yes.

Tahlil did an internship at Rekai Homes while studying as a nursing assistant at George Brown College. She is not yet licensed as a licensed practical nurse, but can legally work as personal support staff.

When Michalik arrived in Tahlil, she told him that the residents of the two houses had the virus.

“Are you ready to work in a COVID positive house?” Asked Michalik. “Does your family agree with that? “

Michalik stated that Tahlil had asked a question: do you have proper PPE?

“I said,” Yes, of course we do. “And she said,” I’m coming. ”

She arrived the next day. Tahlil helps residents meet their daily needs such as washing, washing and eating meals. The two houses are locked and the residents are isolated in their rooms.

“This is the time when we have to accept to help,” she said. “We need all the help we can get. We need hope and empathy. “

Rekai CEO Graham-Nutter said the staff “do their best in a very difficult environment in a situation that no one thought existed”.

“We are all working together,” she said. “If I call the department, the (assistant deputy minister) will call me back within 20 minutes. The industry shares information and inquires about suppliers of new PPE shipments. Lawyer at Rekai Centers delivered PPE supplies to the home when a supplier was ready to donate the materials, she said.

All staff wear surgical masks all day. The house has “well-stocked pandemic rooms,” including N95 masks, she said.


Graham-Nutter invited all of his staff, including new recruits, to visit the “pandemic room”, where PPE supplies are stored.

“They are on the front lines and I want them to know that we are protecting them.”

Moira welsh


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