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B.C. long-term care home aides' stress levels mount as visits to resume

Last Updated Jul 7, 2020 at 5:00 pm PDT

FILE PHOTO. (iStock Photo)
Summary

Anxiety levels are high for thousands of workers at long-term care homes in B.C. now that visits are set to resume

Safety is a concern for employees healthy enough to cover for other still recovering at home from COVID-19

Stress is enormous for employees, says union, as many are still grieving the loss of residents they cared for

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Thousands of B.C. healthcare aides at risk for COVID-19 are willing to work longer hours under stressful conditions now that visits can resume at long-term care homes, according to their representing union.

Safety, however, is a concern for employees healthy enough to cover for others still recovering at home from COVID-19.


The Hospital Employees Union represents about 50,000 members in the province. Secretary-Business Manager, Jennifer Whiteside, says no one has died from the virus in the union, but several care aides have tested positive. Though not all unionized, more than 200 staff at care homes have tested positive for COVID-19

“It is for this very reason that we are so determined to ensure employers live up to their obligation to protect our members while they’re at work,” she says.

Whiteside says many employees are worried about exposing their own families to the coronavirus.

“That creates a lot of anxiety for our members as well,” she says. “Not just being protected at work, but protecting their loved ones once they leave work. Very important for them to have access to their loved ones, but we really have to do it right. The stakes are very high.”

The only health care worker to die from COVID-19 in B.C. is a man who worked at a group home in Richmond. He was a member of CUPE.

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Whiteside says the strain on employees has been enormous during the pandemic.

“Care aides at outbreak sites having to work 10, 12, 15 days in a row without a day off to make sure that shifts were covered. There’s considerable overtime being worked across the system right now.”

“And all of that is to be expected when you’re in the sort of peak of a crisis, but I think our concern now is starting to turn towards how do we address issues around ensuring that there are enough staff, ensuring that workers can work safely, ensuring that we are not burning out.”

She adds many members are also struggling to deal with the loss of people they had taken care of to COVID-19.


“The relationships and the impact on those relationships when someone dies is profound. There is grief. There is trauma and I will say, I am very concerned for the psychological health of our members who are working on the front lines,” Whiteside says.

While a lack of safety equipment is not as much of an issue now, she says, that could change if numbers spike.

“That is absolutely critical. We are very far from out of the woods yet unfortunately on this.”

The province announced changes to visiting long-term care homes last week, with some safety precautions, such as wearing masks and booking appointments in advance.

Visits had been banned since mid-March.