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JIM VIBERT: Residential care workers just want fairness


About 3.8 per cent of Nova Scotians in long-term and residential care were treated this spring for stage 2 to stage 4 bedsores, as well as those that couldn’t be specifically diagnosed. - File
Workers who care for elderly and infirm Nova Scotians in long-term residential facilities funded by the Health Department were excluded from the public service award (PSA) the province paid out over the past year. - Eric Wynne

Faced with a choice between treating some of the lowest paid — and essential — workers in the health system fairly or saving a few bucks, the Nova Scotia government opted for the latter.

Workers who care for elderly and infirm Nova Scotians in long-term residential facilities funded by the Health Department were excluded from the public service award (PSA) the province paid out over the past year. Their counterparts working in nursing homes, who perform essentially the same tasks, received the award, as did workers in homes that provide both nursing and residential care.

Asked to explain the inequity, the province replied that it has “historically” treated residential care workers worse than nursing home workers, although they didn’t quite spin it that way.

“The Department of Health and Wellness had historically funded retirement allowances for publicly funded nursing homes,” according to the government’s written response, but not for workers in residential care facilities.

They seem to be saying that economic injustice is long-standing, so why would the current batch of bureaucrats and politicians bother to correct it? It’s easier to overlook inequity. Cheaper, too.

Workers at residential care facilities operated by the Department of Community Services received the PSA, but the province points out they are government employees. Workers in residential facilities funded by the Health Department, while they are effectively paid by the province, are employees of the individual homes, as are the nursing home workers who got the PSA.

Yes, it’s all a little complicated, but the fact is residential care workers in the health sector aren’t afforded equity with their counterparts in nursing homes, or in Community Services residential facilities.

As the health minister’s own expert panel on long-term care suggested last year, long-term care workers — whether in residential or nursing homes — are underpaid, underappreciated and overworked. The panel made little distinction between nursing homes and residential care facilities.

In its 2018 report, the expert panel noted the main — perhaps the only — difference between the nursing homes and residential care homes is the mobility of residents. Those in residential care must be ambulatory — able to vacate the facility under their own power — while nursing home residents include those who are not.

The provincial government ended the public service award effective April 1, 2015 and gave more than 41,000 public sector workers the option of taking their PSA right away or waiting until they retire. Because its value is frozen at the 2015 level, most employees opted to take it now.

The public service award had been in existence for about 40 years. It provided public employees — upon retirement — with one week’s pay for each year of full-time service, to a maximum of 26 weeks.

Most Nova Scotians, regardless of where they stand on the public service award, would agree that it should at least be equitably applied.

A good example of the inequity imposed on residential care workers, who make less than $18 an hour, can be found in Truro. There, just a couple of kilometres apart, are two long-term care facilities, both operated by a family business. The workers have no complaint with the business they say is an excellent employer. But the province is the invisible paymaster in the mix and a decidedly parsimonious one.

Townsview Estates is considered a residential care facility, while Wynn Park Villa offers both nursing home and residential care. Workers at Townsview Estates have been told they won’t be receiving the public service award. They’re happy their friends and colleagues at Wynn Park received the award, but can’t help wondering, “Where’s ours?”

Where, indeed. The award would be worth about $600 for each year worked to the Townsview workers. It’s worth closer to $2,000 for each year worked to those bureaucrats who remain convinced the Townsview folks aren’t deserving of the award.

The Townsview caregivers dress wounds and provide compassionate care to the facility’s residents. They bond with those in their care, hold their hands and sit by their beds when they die. The bureaucrats who deny those workers their meagre bonus earn two, three or four times as much and took home big public service awards.

Nova Scotia’s health-care system has plenty of problems, but none of them can be laid at the feet of the women — most of the residential care workers are women — who work at Townsview. The same can’t be said of the six-figure bureaucrats running the province’s bloated health bureaucracies.

The government is able to offer a lot of words to justify denying these workers the PSA, but “fair” isn’t one of them.

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