Like the rest of Canada, Alberta’s population is aging. According to Alberta Health, there are over 150 long-term seniors care facilities across the province, supporting approximately 14,500 residents. As seniors find it more challenging (and more isolating) to live on their own, many are choosing to move into independent and assisted living facilities.
The growing demand is also creating challenges for those who staff these facilities. Particularly in privately run facilities where the focus on profit is often at the expense of residents and staff.
So what are the issues, and how can workers ensure they are getting the support they need to provide the high level of care Alberta families expect?
What staff are we talking about?
In Alberta, there are several types of long-term care facilities. This includes independent living facilities, assisted living facilities and supervised care facilities (eg. memory care).
All facilities require cleaning staff, housekeepers, food services staff, maintenance workers, occupational therapists and hair stylists. Those that provide medical services will have nurses, therapists and doctors on the team.
Challenge 1: Staffing shortages
According to a Canadian Institute for Health Information study, Alberta has one of the lowest staff-to-resident ratios among Canadian provinces.
The province often faces a shortage of skilled workers in long-term care facilities. These shortages force existing staff to work longer hours, often without adequate compensation, leading to fatigue and diminished quality of care. It can also result in scheduling challenges for workers.
In many cases, there may not be adequate staffing levels for the size of the facility. This makes it harder for workers to respond to the needs of residents in a timely manner – especially if more complex medical attention is required.
Families of residents often blame workers for neglecting their loved ones when the real responsibility lies with the facility, which is the one cutting costs on staffing.
Challenge 2: High stress levels & burnout
Alberta’s long-term care facility workers commonly experience high levels of stress and burnout due to the demanding nature of their jobs.
These employees often work long hours, have limited resources, and handle the emotional weight of caring for elderly individuals, some of whom may be at the end of their lives. It can be extremely stressful. As more workers leave the seniors care sector, staffing issues become worse.
Challenge 3: Inadequate compensation
Many elder care facility workers in Alberta are underpaid, considering the complexity and demands of their jobs. The lack of competitive wages makes retaining skilled workers in the industry challenging. When people feel undervalued, it contributes to turnover and job dissatisfaction.
Challenge 4: Resident and worker safety
One of the saddest things about aging is the way brain function can deteriorate. According to Statistics Canada, 7.1% of seniors in this country live with some form of dementia. Care facilities require adequate staffing and security measures to protect those affected from wandering out of the building. In some cases, some sufferers can be prone to violent behavior.
Fortunately, facilities with dedicated memory care wings are equipped to handle these situations. In independent living or assisted living scenarios, the condition may be undiagnosed and cause challenges for staff who are not trained to deal with these situations.
Challenge 5: Lack of training and development opportunities
Continuous training is crucial in the elder care sector to keep up with the latest best practices and technologies (see above). Unfortunately, not all facilities in Alberta offer sufficient training and development programs for their staff, which impacts the quality of care provided to the residents.
What can seniors care workers do to improve things?
Addressing the challenges faced by long-term elder care facility workers in Alberta requires a multi-faceted approach. Investing in training and development, improving compensation packages, and managing staffing shortages are critical steps that can help create a supportive work environment for these invaluable healthcare professionals.
However, in the for-profit facilities that make up the bulk of locations in Alberta, managers won’t often take the lead in introducing change.
It is increasingly falling on workers to start a union and negotiate for fairer work conditions.
Alberta unions such as Teamsters Local 987 can help staff take the necessary steps to unionize. Once a union is in place, workers can enter a collective bargaining negotiation to address key issues in a binding contract.
Who is a union for?
A union would represent all non-management workers in your long-term care facility. The exception may be nurses and doctors who are already represented by their own unions/ professional associations.
Stand up for your rights
By taking action, we can ensure that Alberta’s aging population receives the care and support they need while respecting and acknowledging the contributions of long-term care workers in the province.
If the seniors’ care facility you work at is taking advantage of its workers, Teamsters 987 can help. Contact us today to learn how we can be your ally in achieving a stronger, more equitable workplace.