Shoddy hiring practices, unjust wages, slashed vacation time and exhausting overtime shifts are just some of the reasons behind a staffing crisis at Copper Ridge Place, say its workers.
“I’ve watched so many people leave,” said Marg, a nursing-home assistant who’s worked at Copper Ridge since 2004.
“Nobody is doing anything about it, they’re just letting the situation get worse and worse,” added Rob, a Copper Ridge kitchen staffer who’s been there 5.5 years.
Both employees asked to remain anonymous because they feared for their jobs.
“They’ll fire me,” said Rob. “There’s a spokesperson for YTG and we’re not allowed to go to the media.”
Marg expressed similar worries.
“They’ll come after me,” she said.
“I know if there’s something I say, and management puts two-and-two together, I’ll be in big trouble.”
In her unit, almost all the women Marg works with feel the same way.
“They feel they can’t speak up anymore or management is just going to come after them,” she said.
Staff are exhausted, said Marg.
There are a couple nursing-home assistants who come in to cover shifts all the time on their days off, she said.
“And when you’re so tired you don’t think about what you’re doing.”
A few days ago, one of the nursing home staff thought a resident was going to fall.
She went to catch him and blew out her shoulder.
“When you work 12-hour shifts and you do two days and two nights, it’s really exhausting on your body,” said Marg.
“And those girls, they’re so tired when they’re done their night shifts and then they’re coming in for additional shifts — the chance of making a mistake is just that much higher.”
It’s not just staff who are feeling the pinch.
Residents are also affected, said Marg.
People here depend on their routines, she said. At 6 p.m. they have dinner; at 9 p.m. they get their pills, and after that they get changed.
“But it doesn’t always happen, when we’re short staffed — it just throws everything off,” she said.
“And as much as we try not to let the residents know what’s going on, they know — they can sense it from the workers.
“And on days when we have people coming in and working overtime and they’re stressed, you notice a lot more chaos on the units.”
Two weeks ago, Marg’s shift was short two nursing staff.
“We have a palliative resident in our unit, so we try and spend as much time with him as we can,” she said.
“But when you’re short two staff you end up in a situation where people aren’t getting toileted, you don’t get to spend time with your palliative resident, you’re trying to help everybody out and you’re trying to get the baths done.”
That night, another nursing-home assistant was pulled from a different unit to help.
“But that other unit also had a palliative patient who was worse off than we were,” she said.
“It’s a lose-lose situation for everybody.”
It’s even more serious if licensed practical nurses don’t fill empty shifts, added Marg.
“If they’re sick, there is no one to cover and give out the pills.”
Because of the registered nurse shortage, everyone’s roles have changed, said Marg.
“The licensed practical nurses are utilized more and are now giving out the meds,” she said.
However, they’re not getting paid for the additional role they’re playing.
At Macaulay Lodge, licensed practical nurses are also giving out meds, and when they do they get a registered nurse’s subsidy, said Marg.
But licensed practical nurses at Copper Ridge get nothing for the additional responsibility.
“They’re told, ‘It’s your choice to give pills,’ because there is always a registered nurse in the building.”
But from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. there is only one registered nurse to cover all four units, said Marg.
“And I know in our unit, if you started at 7:30 a.m. it takes you until 10:30 in the morning to give out all the pills to our residents,” she said.
“So if you had to give out all the pills to everyone in the building, it would take your whole shift. And there are people who are diabetic and need pills at certain times.
“So, if every licensed practical nurse said, ‘You know what, I’m not doing this today,’ they’d be screwed.”
The first week of May, management issued a notice informing auxiliaries no one will be given time off in June, July or August, because they need to cover permanent shifts, said Marg.
“I was never denied leave before as a permanent, but last year registered nurses weren’t allowed to leave, and licensed practical nurses weren’t given leave.”
The same thing is happening with the kitchen and housekeeping staff, said Rob.
A few weeks ago, he was called in on a day off.
“There was nobody else to cover,” he said. “I was supposed to have three days off, because I had six on, but then they called me on my cell on my last day off and I had to go back in for another six.”
Copper Ridge has always had staffing issues, but it’s getting worse, said Rob.
Nurses aren’t the only ones suffering, he said.
“We are also short staffed in the main kitchen; we need auxiliary cooks, dietary aides, and laundry and housekeeping staff.
“There is stressed and overworked staff in every department at Copper Ridge,” he said. “And now nobody is getting vacation time.”
The News called Copper Ridge director Willy Shippy to ask about the staff shortage and cancelled vacations.
“I will be away from the office June 13th through to June 30th returning July 2nd,” said her voicemail.
Support Services manager Bev Oyler’s voicemail was similar.
“Due to a family emergency, I will be out of the office for the next while starting on June 16th.”
Mid-May, Rob put in a request for some time off in July to visit his son, who’s coming north.
Almost a month later, he received a document stating, “I was not able to approve your request at this time due to the operational needs of the facility.”
“So I had to change my son’s ticket,” said Rob. “That costs money, so now he comes up in early August. But I don’t even know if I will be allowed two weeks then.”
There’s a cook position that’s been vacant at Copper Ridge for four years. And there are not enough auxiliary workers to go around, said Rob.
“Plus they’re only getting auxiliary hours, which most of them don’t want, so they don’t stay because they have to find another job to subsidize their incomes.”
The whole situation is so stressful, Rob is thinking of resigning.
“They don’t give a shit how hard they work us, because it’s been going on for five years and they just keep getting away with it,” he said.
“Health Minister Brad Cathers isn’t doing anything — he ignores it. The managers at Copper Ridge ignore it. And the facility manager (Oyler) ignores it, and she’s the one that said nobody’s allowed to have a month off.”
It’s not surprising there’s nobody banging down the door, added Rob.
“Who wants to work for a stressful place like that?”
In January, after being open only three months, a new 12-bed wing at Copper Ridge was forced to close because the territory couldn’t recruit adequate staff.
Seven new staff had been hired and were committed to coming to the Yukon, but before they got here about half of them changed their minds, said Health spokesperson Pat Living in a previous interview with the News.
“Those registered nurses didn’t want to come up,” said Rob. “When they found out how stressful it was to work there, they just said, ‘No.’”
Last month another nurse gave her notice, said Rob.
“A friend just gave her notice the last week of May and is going to move back to Alberta, because it’s just not worth it up here,” added Marg.
“When you treat people like crap, they leave,” she said.
“Staff are sometimes working 18 to 24 hours in a day and the administration doesn’t care. They just want to fill the line, and they don’t care how battered and bruised a nursing home assistant or a licensed practical nurse is.”
Despite the shortage, Copper Ridge keeps creating new management positions, said Marg.
“They even took the front administrator job and split it into four.
“So, they’re creating all these jobs for other people, but where we really need it we’re not getting the workers.
“And I’ve watched so many new people come and seen how long it takes them to get hired — it just doesn’t make sense.”
Although she’d rather spend her days off relaxing with her young family, Marg continues to come in for extra shifts.
“I know the team I work with is tired, and I feel I need to come in and be there to give them a break.”
“This is the Health and Social Services department,” added Rob.
“It’s supposed to promote health and wellness, and instead it’s destroying and burning out its workers.”