Residents and family members at Malaspina Gardens are worried about the road ahead and uncertain how contracting out will affect their families’ lives.
Mississauga-based Chartwell Seniors’ Housing REIT, which operates Malaspina Gardens, announced earlier this week it’s contracting out 177 jobs and gave current employees a six-month layoff notice.
Siblings Bernie Heise and Simone Halpin, whose 90 year-old mother Antoinette Bergeron lives in Malaspina Gardens, are worried about the disruption of relationships among staff and residents, but they’re also hopeful contracting out might save money and allow renovations to the aging facility.
Halpin said staff and residents form bonds and is worried how it will affect her mother.
“You get used to them and feel sort of like a family,” Bergeron said.
Relationships aren’t only formed among staff and residents, but among the residents themselves, and there’s worry that people might choose to move to another facility, which would have further impacts.
“This is a major instability,” said Halpin. “What makes a great staff family is the continuity of care.”
Halpin worries residents without family members to lean on during the change will be more susceptible to upsets, while Heise added she’s worried about the possibility of turnover.
Diane Young, who has a family member living at Nanaimo Seniors Village, has seen the results contracting out before and said turnover has consequences on the well-being of residents.
Nanaimo Seniors Village went through several rounds of layoffs due to contracting out in recent years and while Young said it is a beautiful facility with great programs and wonderful care, it is upsetting to constantly learn new faces.
Young said her family member is “absolutely distraught” when she gets someone new who doesn’t know her routine. She said staff are the “heart and soul” of care delivered to seniors at these types of seniors facilities.
“It creates a great deal of turmoil,” she said. “The turnover is massive and you don’t get stability – there is no stability left. It’s going to be a great upheaval.”
There is also the worry that contract flipping can happen again at any time.
Sharon Henderson, a Chartwell spokeswoman, said the main part of Malaspina Gardens was built in the late 1920s and the additional Franklyn building opened in 1992. Both buildings have layout and room size challenges that do not meet current needs, especially for complex care residents.
“Greater improvements are needed for overall layout to accommodate wheelchairs and lifts,” said Henderson. “Space restraints also apply to washroom sizes and additionally accessibility for specialized equipment is difficult within these tight spaces.”
She said Chartwell believes modernizing and reconfiguring Malaspina Gardens would contribute to better meeting the needs of residents and the steps the company is taking will help make it a viable candidate for redevelopment.
Workers were shocked by the news their jobs were going to be contracted out, said Kathleen Watson, a health care assistant, activity aid and chairwoman of the Hospital Employees Union Malaspina Mid-Island local. HEU represents about 150 of the employees at the facility.
Chartwell had considered the option since it announced it was examining financially sustainable options in October, but workers believed negotiations would continue in the new year.
“We are just clinging to each other and supporting each other,” she said. “It’s very devastating for older staff.”
The problems stem from Bill 29, which stripped away protections from union agreements over contracting out, said Watson.
“The only option is to get rid of Bill 29,” she said. “What happens is flipping in health care contracts. It’s not safe in that environment and there is no job security anymore. There used to be job security.”
Seniors advocate Kim Slater said labour disruptions affect the overall emotional health of seniors’ care facilities. Slater, vice chairman of the Vancouver Island Association of Family Councils and chairman of the North Vancouver Island Association of Family Councils, said contracting out has been occurring provincewide since the introduction of Bill 29 and is causing instability in the health-care system.
“It’s time for the ministry to admit it’s a failed project and they have to change it,” said Slater. “It has not worked. There is nothing in it that is good for communities.”
He said there are consequences to the disruption of service and the loss of relationships between staff and residents. Benefits of a stable, continual, workforce is employees knowing the residents well and being able to spot changes in the health of residents and being able to address those changes as quickly as possible, said Slater. That becomes more difficult in high staff turnover environments, he added.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson, said in an e-mail that the ministry is “unaware of any adverse effects for people in care” as a result of contracting out. Bill 29, which gave health employers the option of contracting out services, ensures both flexibility and sustainability for the public health system and “it is important for the government to manage taxpayers’ dollars in a way that best enhances patient care” to maximize health care dollars for direct patient care, said the spokesperson.