The care of seniors, and the state of their residence are both “deteriorating to a point of no return,” says the union that represents nurses at the Centre d’hébergement Denis-Benjamin-Viger.
And with more budget cuts in store, they say an intervention by the health minister is critical.
The union claims that staff shortages have forced workers to limit the time that patients can eat, delay their bed times and limit the care they can get from staff in the poorly-maintained building.
The centre’s nurses’ union – the Fédération interprofessionelle de la santé du Quebec (FIQ) – says budget cuts have caused a downward spiral in the centre’s quality of care for its 125 patients with permanent or long-term physical disabilities.
The four-storey building itself “is basically deteriorating to a point of no return,” said Sandra Dahl, a nurse who supervises orderlies at the centre. “And the staff is being cut, so it’s a snowballing effect, that one thing leads to another.”
Nurses of the Île-Bizard facility, backed by other members of the nurse’s union, staged a demonstration in front of the residence on Monday to demand provincial health minister Gaétan Barrette and the West Island health authority correct what the FIQ calls “a home and a place of work that is degrading and dangerous for patients and health care professionals.”
Staff cuts have resulted in overwork, and unfinished work across three shifts – daytime, evening and night – which disrupts the continuity of care, FIQ president Régine Laurent said.
The facility is staffed with a total of 37 orderlies this month, according to the CSN union that represents orderlies. That’s down from 41 orderlies in July, when news of the problems were first reported.
Cuts have limited employees’ ability to deliver care. Feeding times, for example, are now reduced to just six minutes, which has led some patients to lose up to nine kilograms of their weight, the union claims.
More residents are going to bed later than they should – no earlier than 11:30 p.m. – because orderlies and nurses on the evening shift ending at 11:00 are unable to cover all of them.
Staff shortages are also leaving more residents in overloaded incontinence diapers, which is resulting in “higher incidence of fungal infections,” Dahl said.
Parts of the facility are in disrepair. The centre’s bathroom in particular has a damaged ceiling, floor and walls. Some of the damage is covered with duct tape to keep water out and prevent further damage, Laurent said.
The union president said Quebec’s Ministry of Health evaluated the centre in 2015, and reported several recommendations to improve the facility. Neither the government nor the health care authority have followed through since.
Meanwhile, West Island health authority, known as the Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) de l’ouest de l’ile de Montréal promised to “discuss options,” according to the union, but have not followed up until this month, shortly after Denis-Benjamin-Viger’s residents’ committee submitted complaints to the health authority’s complaints commissioner.
The residents’ committee, which counts residents and their families among its members, would not reply to media requests for comment this month due to “fear of reprisal and intimidation” from CIUSSS administration, according to FIQ.
“Families are caught in a ‘code of silence,’ just like health care professionals,” Laurent said.
The West Island health authority denied there was any evidence residents had lost weight due to diminished feeding at the facility.
However, Patrick Murphy-Lavallée, director of support for elderly autonomy at the West Island CIUSSS said “there is a plan in place to improve the quality of food at Denis-Benjamin-Viger.”
The CIUSSS will undertake repairs to the bathrooms, ceilings and floors “over the next few weeks” as part of a series of renovations that began last winter, Murphy-Lavallée said.
The CIUSSS is also gearing up this month to hire full-time orderlies at the facility, whose hours will replace those of part-time and casual positions.
Denise LaPointe, who speaks for the orderlies’ union, said the CIUSSS has chosen to eliminate part-time and casual orderly positions before actually hiring full-time employees, which leaves the centre drastically understaffed. Of the 37 employees, she noted that 17 are on sick leave, primarily due to injuries from overwork.