A ‘perfect storm’: Staffing crisis in seniors care

By Lara Croll

Ensuring there are a sufficient number of health care workers to care for our aging population is one of the most pressing issues facing’s B.C.’s continuing care sector.

A rapidly aging population, high worker injury rates, funding shortfalls, low recruitment, and the increasing acuity level of seniors are all contributing factors to the health human resource crisis facing long-term care, assisted living and home health care providers. The workforce is also aging and recruiting younger workers in the sector has become a challenge.

Earlier this year, over 170 stakeholders came together at the 2nd Annual BC Continuing Care Collaborative—a partnership between BC Care Providers Association and the Ministry of Health—to address training, recruitment and retention challenges of the next generation of continuing care workers. The event brought together government and health authorities, unions, training colleges, continuing care employers and frontline workers to not only identify the most pressing HHR issues, but also seek out opportunities to tackle them.

BC Care Providers Association recently released a report entitled “The Perfect Storm: A Health Human Resources Crisis in Seniors Care” highlighting the key takeaways from the Collaborative, particularly the need for a comprehensive health human resource strategy to address the sector’s labour shortage crisis.

BCCPA believes the strategy must be developed collaboratively with governments, health authorities, unions, continuing care employers, post-secondary institutions and frontline workers themselves.

“The seniors care sector has identified the critical shortages of qualified frontline staff as one of our biggest challenges,” says BCCPA CEO Daniel Fontaine.

“We are grateful for all of the contributions of so many stakeholders to date, and I highly recommend that everyone who is interested in the future of seniors’ care in B.C. downloads and reads the Perfect Storm report. It will serve as a useful reference handbook as we try to address the staffing crisis in seniors’ care.”

Current labour shortages in the continuing care sector are creating an environment where workloads are unbalanced, contributing to worker stress and burnout, as well as increasing physical wear and tear. Continuing care employers report that staffing levels in the sector have not kept pace with the increasing acuity of residents and clients, despite recent increases to direct care hours in long term care.

It is imperative that governments provide sufficient funding for increasing staffing levels and direct care hours that support the health and safety of health care workers. Increasing staffing levels and increasing the number of workers in the sector would be effective strategies to address worker retention.

With our aging workforce and low recruitment rates, it will be crucial to attract a younger generation of workers into the continuing care sector. Providing tuition relief and bursaries for students, as well as other financial incentives to address affordability challenges, will be effective strategies to boost recruitment into the sector.

Expanding the delivery of dual credit programs will also allow career-orientated students to graduate from high school ready to work in an industry that is growing quickly and offers long-term job stability. Many young people lack awareness of job opportunities in the sector. While it is well known that sectors such as high tech will experience excellent growth, the public lacks awareness of the strong growth in the health care sector, and in seniors’ care in particular.

A comprehensive awareness building campaign, including job fairs and social media, will be needed to complement these financial incentives and advertise job opportunities in the sector.

There is also a need to clear a pathway for international students and workers. Hundreds of qualified nurses and health care assistants enter Canada every year, only to discover that they can not start practicing in B.C. in a timely manner due to red tape and financial barriers.

Similarly, international students represent an untapped pool of potential labour, but restrictive immigration policies currently discourage and block entry into the continuing care sector. Reducing red tape, removing financial barriers, and improving access for international students and workers will be a key component of the larger strategy to address B.C.’s labour challenges.

We need to better retain the workers we already have. It is well known that health care workers are at a high risk of occupational injury and long-term disability.

High injury rates in the continuing care sector negatively affect worker retention and reduce continuity of care for residents and clients. The sector’s reputation for having high injury rates–particularly with respect to violence–prevents potentially qualified candidates from entering the sector.

Opportunities exist for continuing care employers and post-secondary institutions to work more closely to ensure that all health care workers have the skills necessary to stay safe at work. By committing to staff safety and investing in health and safety training, leadership teams can create organizations that have a strong culture of safety.

Although labour shortages in the sector have reached a crisis point, feasible solutions that can be implemented with stakeholder collaboration over the next few years have been identified.

BCCPA is confident that by implementing the solutions and strategies outlined in the Perfect Storm report, challenges and barriers experienced by continuing care providers can be overcome. However, few of these solutions can be implemented in isolation.

BCCPA is committed to working in collaboration with stakeholders across the continuing care sector to secure the next generation of seniors’ care workers, and invites you, the reader, to be part of this vital work.

Lara Croll is BCCPA ‘s HHR Analyst.


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