Long-term care operators seek action on nursing agency practices

AS the heath human resource crisis continues to intensify across the province, BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) on Tuesday called on the provincial government and private nursing agencies to collaborate further with the sector to control the impacts of the use of temporary nursing agencies in long-term care.

Association CEO and former BC health minister, Terry Lake said the agencies’ practices are resulting in unstable staffing, and negatively affecting residents’ quality of care. Agencies traditionally have been effective in providing short term help to fill vacancies due to vacation and illness but now supply large swaths of the workforce in healthcare.

“Many temporary agencies are promising wages which care homes simply cannot compete with, and earning large margins doing it. Workers will leave their employer and work for several care homes on an ad-hoc basis, or a care home will be forced to hire that same worker back at a much higher rate out of desperation,” said Lake, who indicated that the practice has impacts comparable to “contract flipping.”

“For residents, particularly those living with dementia, having familiar staff who know you is critical to quality care. When staffing is unstable, that has very real impacts on the people who live in long-term care,” he said. It also can have negative impacts on regular staff who work alongside agency staff for lower wages and often have to provide support to those unfamiliar with the home’s procedures.

Lake indicated that upward of 50-75 percent of long-term care nursing lines in areas like the Interior are being filled by temporary agency nurses, putting the sector at a near breaking point. In more than one home, agency staff comprise one hundred percent of the positions. Lake predicts that the issue will get worse as summer nears and staff take well deserved vacation time.

“In addition to the impacts on residents, our members are telling us that these exorbitant and unexpected costs are financially destabilizing the sector. Unless there is immediate action this could result in bed closures and serious disruptions to care,” said Lake.

BCCPA said it acknowledged the Government of B.C.’s progress on health human resources challenges in the province, and that policy is being developed on this issue. Given the urgency of this matter, the association said it is looking to the Ministry of Health, and temporary nursing agencies, to partner with it to address these concerns further. In Quebec, legislation has been passed to essentially ban the use of agencies but Lake said finding a consensual solution is the preferred approach.