Long Term Care illustration

Courtesy CBC

Planning to ensure there’ll be enough staff on shift at the lodge to help grandma dress in the morning or dip her dentures in Polident for a night-time soak seems kind of important.

It’s not like Monday’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and testing deadline for frontline workers in Manitoba arrives as a colossal shock.

Yet two Manitoba personal care homes seem to have suddenly realized a staff shortage, created by employees exercising their right to opt-out of the requirements, might occur. How many? They probably know by now but claim they’re not quite sure.

They scrambled to alert family members of a worst-case scenario contingency plan to care for their elderly loved ones. 

It’s them. Family members are the contingency plan. They’ll likely be called upon to step up this week and do the work they’re paying the province to do. 

Family members only found this out in a letter sent October 13.

Cleaning grandma’s teeth — be it brushing or soaking — would hardly be the only caregiving task at Salem Home in Winkler and Taber Home in Morden. Volunteers will be asked to pitch in to do laundry, plan entertainment activities, feed, dress and clean residents.

Clean? What does that mean? Clean their rooms? Clean them? Surely, these seniors wouldn’t be stripped of dignity having family members give them the widely practiced standard one — yes only one — bath per week. 

The alternative to volunteering at the facilities? Family might be asked to take seniors off the home’s hands.

“If we do not have staff, we may have to go one step further and ask that you would take your loved one home to look after them,” says the letter.

Public health orders dictate that as of October 18 unvaccinated staff are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result 48 hours prior to each shift. Officials are concerned some workers will refuse the test.

Salem Home, in the Southern Health Region, is in an area with the province’s lowest vaccination rates. The health districts of Winkler and nearby Stanley have rates of almost 43% and 25% respectively.

The region, under more restrictions than elsewhere in the province, claims to have a high number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Last month there was a COVID-19 “outbreak” at Salem — two residents tested positive — and isolation was mandated even though vaccinated visitors were allowed in.

Despite all this, health officials think the solution to staff shortages is a parade of volunteers — even vaccinated volunteers pose a risk — traipsing in. 

Or, as an alternative, shove vulnerable residents out into the community.

That’s insanity.

Manitoba’s Health Minister Audrey Gordon couldn’t provide the number of unvaccinated health care workers. She met with health representatives in the region Friday to discuss other contingency plans.

Think about that. Friday. How long has this mandated vaccination deadline been anticipated?

Seniors shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Deploying staff on standby from elsewhere is one Hail Mary someone pitched. From where exactly? These two homes won’t be the only ones left short-staffed. 

To be fair, Gordon was left with the train wreck that unfolded under the watch of the previous health minister Heather Stefanson, who bailed to run for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. The vote is October 30.

But back to what is being asked of families.

They have placed fragile senior family members in homes to be cared for by trained professionals. Care and accommodation are not free. They pay for it. Handsomely.

Many of these family members are seniors themselves, also fragile and struggling with health issues. 

What stress that ridiculous letter must place on many of them.

And what about family members who threw dad or Uncle Bob in a home and forget to visit? Oh sure, they’ll get right on that volunteer gig.

One certainly feels sympathy for health care workers in senior’s facilities who will carry extra workloads on top of already heavy workloads. These facilities are rarely adequately staffed.

One almost feels sympathy for health officials who have been at the mercy of, and struggling though, provincial planning that has proven erratic and abysmal.

Until then one of them proposes this as a contingency plan…

“We’re looking at things as simple as our menus and ramping down some of our menus, so they are easier recipes to produce,” Jane Curtis, CEO of the Southern Regional Health Authority, told CTV News.

What exactly does that mean? Mealtime is one of few highlights in the day at the lodge. Residents don’t like change. 

Don’t mess with their meals. Get in there and cook them yourself if you must!

Seniors deserve the best. The best! Yet it seems their care might be a casualty in this COVID-19 mess the province created.

Is it because they are the last to complain? Or are so fragile, they can’t?

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard

Senior Columnist (Manitoba)

Linda Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard based out of Winnipeg. She has been an investigative columnist for the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, and Alberta Report.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.