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Care has declined for years at 2 Vancouver Island long-term care homes, say staff, residents

Residents, staff and former employees at two Port Alberni long-term care homes say they’re at a breaking point after complaining for years about alleged serious mismanagement in the workplace. 

“It’s terrible. They’re running us into the ground,” said an employee at Fir Park Village and Echo Village, who cited a myriad of “bullying and harassment” from management, and alleged violations of the workers’ collective agreement, including improper scheduling and pay, particularly for casual and part-time employees. 

Residents also say the issues have affected the quality of care, with some rooms not being properly cleaned, and some residents not being bathed or changed regularly. Earlier this month, one resident joined a protest outside the building.

The CBC has agreed to keep all employee names confidential due to their fears of persecution from their employer.

Another staff member said care began declining after new management stepped in around eight years ago, and that many complaints have been made to the Alberni-Clayoquot Continuing Care Society (ACCCS), which operates the homes, and to the Hospital Employees’ Union and the Vancouver Island Health Authority — to no avail.

The employee said around 30 staff members have left the past few years due to issues with management, who they allege are not receptive to most of their concerns.

“[Management] will beat around the bush. [They’ll] defer the conversation. Nothing ever gets solved,” they said.

They added that staff shortages have steeply decreased the quality of care for residents — most of whom are elderly — citing missed cleaning schedules, resident check-ins and baths. 

‘A staged effort,’ claims long-term care management 

Joe McQuaid, executive director of the ACCCS, told CBC that “none of the concerns … raised are merited,” and that the society ensures employees are “afforded a workplace which adheres to … civility, decency and respect.” 

“I am aware of false and derogatory comments being said about our management team,” said McQuaid. “There has been a staged effort over the past four months to discredit and shame our staff and our volunteer … board of directors.” 

According to a third care home employee, now that they are speaking out, management has become “retaliatory” by reprimanding and firing staff. They added that management has sent multiple cease-and-desist letters against former employees.

McQuaid confirmed management has sent the letters due to “defamatory comments.” 

“It’s not uncommon … to want to exact a measure of revenge after the loss of employment,” said McQuaid, adding the CBC has been “misled by persons who have ulterior motives.”

Care has declined for years at 2 Vancouver Island long-term care homes, say staff, residents
Residents and staff at Fir Park Village and Echo Village long-term care homes, in Port Alberni, say the quality of care has been declining for around eight years, due to staff shortages and poor management. (Screenshot from Google Maps)

Erin Paul, the local Hospital Employees Union representative, said she spends “90 per cent” of her time dealing with grievances filed from the homes, listing issues including management’s refusal to grant vacation, incorrect rates of overtime pay, priority over certain employees for shifts, and “constant disrespect on the work floor.” 

She said over 100 grievances were filed in the last year, but management has refused to allow union stewards to investigate by not giving the proper documentation.

Mike Old, the union’s coordinator of policy and planning, said over 100 grievances is notably high given the size of the facilities.

Paul said she’s encouraging staff and family of residents to complain to Island Health and to contact their MLA, while the union actively pursues an arbitrator to try and resolve issues.

Residents say ‘improper cleaning’ and ‘missed baths’

“The way staff is treated is terrible,” said 58-year-old Mark Chase, who’s one of around 68 residents at Echo Village, and has lived there for 12 years.

“Things have changed so much for the worse,” he said, explaining that his room often isn’t cleaned for long time periods, that residents have gone “without baths for a few weeks,” and that some are too nervous to ask for help because they’re aware of how exhausted staff are.

Chase was part a protest with around 70 loved ones and former employees outside the Echo Village building earlier this month. Current employees told CBC they didn’t participate for fear of persecution. Former employees said another protest is planned for the near future.

Kathleen Ruissen, whose father lives at Echo Village, attended the rally. She said that after a period during COVID-19 where she couldn’t visit her father, she found all his pants stained after he’d soiled himself, when he should be wearing adult diapers.

Ruissen said she’s exploring other living options. 

An employee said it “breaks [their] heart” that staff aren’t able to check on residents as often as they should.

“I should never have to hear [a resident] say they’re scared to ask a care aid to help them use the toilet because we’re so short-staffed,” they added. 

McQuaid said a formal complaint of the care homes’ staffing, care and bathing schedules was found to be “not warranted nor substantiated” after Island Health conducted a review of the facilities.

‘We’re here for the residents,’ say employees

Employees said Island Health’s review happened early this year, where around 60 employees were interviewed — a number of them in tears, the CBC was told — though no concrete action was taken since then.

Island Health did not respond to CBC by the deadline, after numerous attempts at contact.

Current staff say while so many have left or have been fired, they’re choosing to stay because they care deeply about the residents.

“We are the only voice for them at the end of the day,” said one. 

“If we all leave, [management] will stay, and those residents are going to keep being put through this.”

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