Terrified workers are doing two jobs each. Patients they’ve looked after for years are dying by the dozen. And while management says the shelves are stocked with personal protective equipment, those who actually stock the shelves say that’s not true.
One staff member says that’s what it’s like at Kennedy Lodge, the Scarborough, Ont. nursing home where 31 people have died of COVID-19 and 128 have been infected. The personal support worker (PSW), who works on a floor for COVID-19-positive residents, spoke on the condition that their name not be published over fears of retribution at work.
“A lot of them are frustrated. A lot of them are scared. Some of them are worried,” the PSW said of their coworkers. “We don’t know a lot about this pandemic and we’re not getting the protection that we need from management.”
Seven to eight staff should be working on the floors for COVID-19-positive residents, but sometimes only four show up to work, the PSW told HuffPost Canada. Staff should be designated to specific floors, but they go back and forth between the COVID-positive and COVID-negative floors because there are so few of them.
Earlier: Ontario promises improvements in long-term care. Story continues after video.
N95 masks, the respirator masks that filter out small particles including viruses, are available but not in the sizes staff need, the PSW said.
“It’s just amazing. Sometimes even gloves — basic gloves — they don’t have.”
The company that owns the home, Revera, is not paying workers for overtime, the person said. And workers haven’t seen the $3-an-hour raise the government promised them yet.
It’s just amazing. Sometimes even gloves — basic gloves — they don’t have.Personal support worker at Kennedy Lodge
In an email to HuffPost, Revera denied all of its employee’s claims.
“At present, the staffing levels at Kennedy Lodge are stable. Several staff members have returned to work after being off on isolation. Staff have been cohorted in their assignments to specific units,” spokesperson Larry Roberts said.
“There is an adequate supply of all types of appropriate PPE at Kennedy Lodge including N95 masks and gloves … Revera pays overtime to staff who work overtime.”
Revera is a privately run company but all its shares are owned by an agency of the federal government.
The worker’s union, SEIU Healthcare, told HuffPost that it’s heard the same complaints about short-staffing, PPE and overtime pay, from many workers at the home.
“They were short-staffed before the pandemic. Now, they are horribly short-staffed,” union president Sharleen Stewart said.
She said she is “constantly” filing grievances for workers who say they weren’t paid for their overtime.
“It’s dangerous in there … They are literally just terrified to go in there.”
Death toll soars in November
The outbreak at Kennedy Lodge started on Oct. 2 and seemed to explode in early November. Revera reported that four residents had died on Oct. 26. About two and a half weeks later, the company updated its numbers to show 31 had died.
Throughout that time, Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said that homes with outbreaks of COVID-19 were well-staffed and had enough PPE.
“In wave 2, right now, there are no homes with critical staffing levels because we’re getting them the help that they need — including the PPE,” Fullerton said at the legislature Oct. 28.
And on Nov. 2, she said, “There are no critical situations with the homes. There are no critical staffing shortages.”
The PSW was blunt when asked about her assurances: “Lies. ... They go on camera every day and it’s lies, lies, lies.”
Stewart said Fullerton has been “absolutely misleading the province, which is very sad.”
Is the staffing ideal in all homes? I would say that we have to continuously take measures ...Minister Merrilee Fullerton
HuffPost asked Fullerton Tuesday how workers at Kennedy Lodge could see something so different from what she describes in the legislature.
“Is the staffing ideal in all homes? I would say that we have to continuously take measures to make sure that those homes are getting the staffing so that you’re not in a critical situation,” she responded.
She promised to check again that Kennedy Lodge has the staff it needs and said her government has spent millions of dollars on PPE.
The next day, Fullerton’s office followed up to say it had confirmed with ministry staff that the workers have PPE and “are in fact staffed over and above their regular staffing complement.”
“We want to thank every front-line health care worker and staff member for their ongoing dedication and support during this time,” spokesperson Krystle Caputo said by email.
“The health and safety of our most vulnerable continues to be the number one priority of our government.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Tuesday it’s “terrifying” that the government is not telling the truth about what’s happening “while they stand by and watch people lose their lives.”
“It is irresponsible. It is reprehensible. It is cruel,” she told HuffPost.
“Shame on the minister of long-term care, who really should step aside. Shame on her that she’s suggesting everything is copacetic when it comes to long-term care, when we know that’s not the case.”
This story has been updated with additional comment from Minister Merrilee Fullerton’s office.