Copper Ridge is short staffed, say nurses

There have been staffing issues at Copper Ridge for more than a decade, says Mike Dixon. The local nurse worked at the facility since 2001 and retired last year.

There have been staffing issues at Copper Ridge for more than a decade, says Mike Dixon.

The local nurse worked at the facility since 2001 and retired last year.

“If you walked into any unit at Copper Ridge between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. you would see nobody except residents in wheelchairs,” he said.

“You’d have to bang on every door to find out where (the staff) are.”

There have been four assaults at Copper Ridge Place since July.

And family members and concerned citizens are blaming a lack of staff for the problems.

“I have no problems with the staff, they are wonderful, but they are all running around with so much to do,” said Liesel Briggs, during a community meeting she organized on Friday.

Briggs’ sister, who has severe Down syndrome, was sexually molested at Copper Ridge in July.

Marge MacLeod was also at last Friday’s meeting, held at the Yukon Association of Community Living office in the Yukon Inn Plaza.

MacLeod’s ex-husband was punched in the face by another Copper Ridge resident, last month.

“I have no complaints about the nurses or staff, I have admiration for what they do,” added MacLeod.

“But there is a staff shortage, from what I can see.”

Copper Ridge has eight units, each with roughly 12 residents. Each unit has two staff on the floor, a licensed practical nurse and a nursing home attendant, said Dixon.

In the morning, staff between units team up, so one nurse hands out meds in two units, leaving the nursing home attendant alone to get residents out of bed.

This is hard work, said Dixon.

And while the attendant is in each room, the rest of the residents in that unit are left alone for hours, he said.

Often residents are plunked in front of the TV with their breakfast, while the attendant goes to get up the next resident, added Dixon.

“The residents are left on their own, and if they choked and died nobody would know the difference.

“Right now, they are basically living on the edge hoping this doesn’t happen, because there are no eyes on the floor.”

Copper Ridge used to have a float position, said Dixon. And having this extra nurse on staff was “very helpful,” he said.

“But they got rid of that position.”

The float position was a fulltime position that filled vacancies, said Cathy Morton-Bielz, assistant deputy minister of continuing care.

There is lots of sick leave in this business, because if someone has the sniffles they’re sent home so they don’t compromise the health of the residents, she said.

But staff didn’t like the float position, said Morton-Bielz. “So we added registered nurse supervisors instead.”

Trouble is, these supervisors aren’t on the floor, like the float person was, said Dixon.

The registered nurses interact with family and take doctors’ orders, “but they are not involved in care at all,” he said.

Having the float position really helped, said former Copper Ridge nurse Marina Bailey. “But we were told there was no longer funding for it.”

Bailey worked at Copper Ridge for five years, and staffing was always an issue, she said.

“Because we were short-staffed we had to do everything in a rush and couldn’t watch everyone who needs to be watched,” she said.

Finding health-care staff is a problem across Canada, said Bailey.

“And I don’t know why they can’t admit they have a problem at Copper Ridge.

“There is no shame in saying they are understaffed.”

It’s misleading, she said.

Copper Ridge has some of the best staffing levels in Canada, said Morton-Bielz, who attended Friday’s meeting.

“Our staff-client ratios work out to 4.8 hours per client,” she said. “The next highest in Canada are 3.7 hours.”

But these ratios don’t paint an honest picture of the situation at Copper Ridge, said Dixon.

The staffing ratios count all staff, including the registered nurses, occupation therapists, physiotherapists and dietary aides, he said.

“They include as many people as they can in the mix, so they can say they have great staff ratios,” said Dixon.

“But the bottom line is that most of these positions are not eyes on the floor.”

The therapists make appointments with various residents, the dietary aides bring in the hot food carts and the registered nurses spend a lot of time in meetings with family and doctors, he said.

They are seldom on the floor watching the patients, he said.

In fact, there were times when Dixon was getting one patient out of bed and another patient was ringing the call bell and a therapist in the unit didn’t even bother to answer the call, since it had nothing to do with their job, he said.

Copper Ridge staff have excellent training, including fall-prevention training, said Morton-Bielz.

“But all the protocols and training in the world won’t help, if there is no human there to see it happen,” said Dixon.

There were plenty of times when he caught dementia patients wandering into another patient’s room, as MacLeod’s ex-husband did when he was punched.

In other nursing homes where Dixon worked, in Ontario and Nova Scotia, many of the more aggressive residents were physically or chemically restrained, he said.

It is great this doesn’t happen at Copper Ridge, and that it allows residents their dignity, said Dixon. Copper Ridge just needs more staff on the floor, he said.

“We’ve been talking about this since 2001.

“So don’t say we’re the envy of Canada, because it’s misleading and family members aren’t that stupid.”

Copper Ridge spends an immense amount of money backfilling sick leave, often paying double time, which is upwards of $50 an hour, said Dixon.

He knows because he benefited from it.

If a private nursing home managed its staffing this way, it would be bankrupt, he said.

Rather than paying double time to fill sick leave, Copper Ridge should use that money to hire more staff, said Dixon.

Having an extra staffer on the floor who sits with the residents while they eat and talks with them, rather than plopping them in front of the TV, would be a boon, he said.

“They could reminisce with them, and talk about their past or even read to them.

“It would be money well spent.”

Dixon doesn’t want to bash Copper Ridge, he said. “I just want to make things better.”

This was also the sentiment at Friday’s meeting.

“We don’t want this to be confrontational,” said Briggs. “We need everyone to be open and transparent and work together.”

Briggs has asked to see Copper Ridge’s rules and protocols. But she’s still waiting.

Yukoners need to feel comfortable putting their family members at Copper Ridge, said NDP MLA Kevin Barr, who attended the meeting.

“And we should be open to making things better,” he said. “People shouldn’t feel threatened by this, and they shouldn’t be afraid to give up the good for the better.”

Worried about staffing problems while she was working there, Bailey wrote a letter to the minister of Health.

“That’s why I lost my job,” she said.

“Memos were always being sent out telling us not to talk to the media,” she added.

“We were told not to say anything, unless it was positive.”

Staff at Copper Ridge are petrified of losing their jobs, added Dixon.

“But we should be able to talk about our safety concerns. And if nobody listens, we should be able to talk to the media.”

If there were a daycare that left its children unattended for an hour outside in the playground, while staff were inside doing other things, and the gate was left open and cars were whizzing by, there would be a public outcry, said Dixon.

“So why are we leaving our most vulnerable elders alone and unattended?

“Are we saying they are less important?”

The group of concerned families and citizens advocating for change at Copper Ridge are meeting again on Wednesday, November 30, at 3 p.m. at the Yukon Association of Community Living. All are welcome.

Contact Genesee Keevil at