Dear Premier Blaine Higgs,
I am a social work student at St. Thomas University. Before I started graduate school back in August 2019, I worked for three years in the biggest long-term care home in New Brunswick as an Activity Director. I have seen firsthand the everyday struggle that long-term care staff and residents experience. Albert Banerjee spoke on a recent panel discussion about the structural violence that exists in nursing homes across Canada. His research from 2012 found that Canadian workers are seven times more likely to experience structural violence on a daily basis as opposed to workers in Nordic countries. Why is that?
Nursing home workers are underpaid and work in dismal conditions. They are incapable of providing adequate care for older adults in our province, because they are not provided with efficient support in the workplace. Staff find themselves rushing through the caring process, which is not a good experience for them, or the residents they care for.
When I worked in long-term care, I could not believe how busy my co-workers were, and how little time they had to get people ready for the day and to meet their essential needs. My job was to facilitate therapeutic activities to keep the residents engaged and improve their quality of life, but I often found myself assisting with meals, toileting, assisting residents to stand up and attending to other needs that were outside the scope of my position.
Our reaction to the current global pandemic is an opportunity for New Brunswick to do better. What happened at Sainte-Dorothee long-term care home in Laval, Quebec is horrific and demonstrates that Canada needs to prioritize the treatment of older adults, and those who care for them. Residents were severely neglected and robbed of their dignity, and some were found dead in their beds. According to a CTV news report, staff at Sainte-Dorothee did not have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and others from infection. One care worker was told that they would have to go and buy their own PPE.
New Brunswick is currently doing relatively well in the number of cases of COVID-19. However, the COVID-19 virus is extremely unpredictable, and the global situation changes every day. We must ensure that NB care staff and residents are prepared and protected from a similar fate. Premier, I know that you value the lives of New Brunswickers and see the seriousness of this pandemic. I hope that you will do everything in your power to ensure that nursing home workers are fairly compensated and protected.
The recent announcement from the federal government to top up wages for front-line workers is certainly a progressive move from the country. However, I hope that this financial aid will continue post-COVID-19.
CUPE nursing home workers in New Brunswick have been without a contract since 2016. I am urging you to go back to the bargaining table and offer nursing home workers a fair and adequate wage that reflects the extremely difficult jobs they do. This job does not have to be difficult, if staffing issues were addressed. I hope that the pandemic triggers the federal government to look at policy changes in nursing homes, so that staff do not have to work in unsafe working conditions. Healthcare workers are being praised for being heroes, but this is not being reflected in their treatment.
Ageism is ubiquitous. Ashton Applewhite, a thinker on ageism, commented on Facebook on April 28: “I wouldn’t say the pandemic has deepened ageism, I’d say it has exposed it as never before…” Folks typically view older adults as a societal burden. It is time for that to change. After all — we are all aging. If I ever move into long-term care, I want to have a good quality of life. I want the people taking care of me to have a good quality of life. Don’t you, Premier Higgs?
Eve Baird is a social work student at St. Thomas University.