An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
REMEMBER WHEN B.C.’s nursing homes were taking the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Residents of those facilities were dying by the score.
By April of 2020 there were outbreaks in 24 B.C. long-term care or assisted living facilities, and they represented most of the active COVID cases in the province.
Nationwide between March and August of that year, COVID killed at least 7,000 nursing home residents.
One of the B.C. solutions was to prohibit nursing staff from doing shifts at more than one nursing home. It was leading to exhaustion and increasing the spread of the virus.
The B.C. ban included assuring workers of equitable wages and benefits to protect them from financial hardship. The cost was an estimated $10 million a month and the ban was going to last until the pandemic was over.
But the pandemic raged on, mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers were declared and nursing homes are experiencing staffing shortages again as workers leave for employment elsewhere.
Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, says the staffing shortage has become a crisis. Nursing homes are supposed to have a nurse on-site 24/7 and that’s not possible right now, according to Lake, who says lifting the single-site order would help alleviate the shortage.
It sounds like madness considering it was so important in stemming the tide of COVID a year and a half ago. But vaccines weren’t developed and widely available, nor mandatory, back then.
Vaccinations and rapid testing can now keep workers and residents both protected, so the ban isn’t as important now.
In fact, the door has already been opened. In October, nursing homes were told they could get exemptions to allow staff to work at more than one facility if the vaccination mandate resulted in significant shortages.
That time has come. Time to return to the old multiple-facilities practice lest staffing shortages put the health of our seniors at risk just as the pandemic did.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.