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Province invests in CCAs, moves forward with re-opening

  • February 16 2022
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH – At the COVID-19 briefing on Feb. 9, Premier Tim Houston announced an investment of approximately $65 million in health authorities, long-term care and home care to increase pay for continuing care assistants (CCAs), which will make them the highest paid in Atlantic Canada.

Support for CCAs

Effective Feb. 10, wages for unionized and non-unionized CCAs in the publicly-funded sector will increase by approximately 23 per cent, bringing the top annual salary to $48,419. For most full-time CCAs, this is an annual increase of close to $9,000 a year.

“We’re doing everything we can to fix the system, and we’ve heard from CCAs and unions time and again that we can’t do this until we address wages for CCAs, which I was shocked to hear were the lowest in the country,” said Houston, adding, “We feel the urgency and the frustration. The system needs investment, and the workers need support now. We want them to know they are heard, valued and respected.”

In data published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information on long-term care facility ownership in Nova Scotia for 2021, it appears almost half of the provinces long-term care facilities are private, for-profit centres. The Journal asked Houston how this announcement will affect CCAs working in those facilities, such as the ones owned by GEM Health Care Group in Canso and Guysborough.

Houston responded, “Essentially, if a CCA is working in a home that’s funded by the government, this will flow through to them. And that’s a vast, vast majority of the CCAs in the province.”

GEM Health Care Group’s Director of People Relations, Mahmood Hussain, provided the following statement to The Journal regarding the pay raise announcement which positively impacts their employees in Canso and Guysborough, “GEM Health Care Group (GEM) applauds the provincial government for its recent announcement of additional investments into long-term care in Nova Scotia. Continuing Care Assistants (CCA) provide a critically important service to one of our most vulnerable populations and they deserve to be paid accordingly for their hard efforts. This unprecedented investment to increase CCA pay will go a long way in addressing current labour challenges and will establish Nova Scotia as a LTC leader in Canada.

“GEM is looking forward to working collaboratively with the government to identify opportunities, wherever possible, to expedite the process of allocating an additional 500 long-term care beds across Halifax Regional Municipality. This investment will build upon previous investments announced to rebuild and renovate facilities across Nova Scotia including GEM’s Gables Lodge in Amherst and Melville Lodge facility in Spryfield. Please click here to learn more about current vacancies and training programs offered at our facilities,” Hussain wrote.

Re-opening plan

At the same briefing, Dr. Robert Strang, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Nova Scotia, announced an easing of public health restrictions, as of Feb. 14, when gathering limits increased and all border restrictions for domestic travellers were lifted.

The re-opening plan has three phases, each expected to last about a month. Moving to the next phase will depend on epidemiology, hospitalizations, case activity in long-term care facilities and employee absenteeism. In Phase 2, gathering limits will be further increased. In Phase 3, there will be no more gathering limits, or physical distance requirements.

In Phase 1, implemented on Feb. 14, and Phase 2, masks will continue to be required in indoor public places and proof of full vaccination will continue to be required for discretionary activities. According to Strang, these restrictions may also apply when the province moves into Phase 3 of the re-opening plan.

Healthcare system at capacity

While most Nova Scotians feel some relief at the easing of restrictions, Strang was asked how that decision squared with the almost daily reports of deaths due to COVID-19 and comments this past week that many hospitals were beyond capacity.

Strang replied, “The fundamental principal in epidemiology is the difference between an incident, those are the new things that are happening versus the prevalence, which is the cumulative total. So, when we look at, from the epidemiological perspective, where are we at in the trend of the wave and the spread of the virus, it’s looking at new cases, what are we seeing today in our communities which is most important. And we are starting to see, it’s very early, our case numbers and outbreaks and all the other things that I outlined are well on their way trending downward. We’re starting to see the beginning of that downward trend in new admissions and hospitalizations.

“But, from the perspective of the capacity of the healthcare system and being cognizant of how much pressure they’re under, it’s the prevalence, it’s the total number of cases that we have to be concerned about. And the two come together when we look at how fast can we go in this re-opening because we have to remain cautious that our system is already at maximum capacity as we re-open, and I’m comfortable that we can re-open, but we have to be careful that we watch that were not adding to that already substantive pressure that’s on the healthcare system,” said Strang.

COVID-19 collateral damage

While COVID-19 has been the main medical preoccupation for the past two years, last week CBC News reported concerns related to falling behind on the medical care of other serious conditions, such as cancer.

“The impact of COVID will cost lives,” Dr. Helmut Hollenhorst, senior medical director of Nova Scotia’s cancer care program, told CBC News.

CBC reported diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been delayed the past two years due to the pandemic.

The Journal asked Strang if the province was keeping track of the collateral damage COVID-19 has caused in other areas of healthcare.

Strang said, “My understanding, that our cancer care program and other kinds of programs of care are certainly aware and are looking at some of those impacts and quantifying them and coming up with plans on how to address them as soon as they’re able to. That’s why it is important that we focus and not put more pressure on our health care system over the next couple of months so we can start to reopen those other programs of care as soon as we are able to.”

For more information on the COVID-19 re-opening plan visit: https://novascotia.ca/reopening-plan/.