Nova Scotia

Union urges Nova Scotians to wear masks while visiting family in long-term care

The president of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, which represents about 700 people who work in long-term care, is urging people to take precautions when visiting loved ones during a busy season of respiratory illnesses.

Sandra Mullen says union members have seen a number of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, which is affecting both residents and staff.

“With the respiratory [illness] season being upon us, the mandatory masking and reporting is not where it was some time ago, so the virus moves,” Mullen told CBC Radio’s Information Morning Halifax on Wednesday. 

“You know, our members are working in these facilities, family and friends are coming in to visit their loved ones, which we want to continue, and they’re bringing it in of course.”

On Monday, the Department of Seniors and Long-term Care confirmed there were 20 COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the province. Outbreaks are defined as two or more connected cases. 

“Respiratory viruses are always a concern, particularly during the winter season when we spend more time indoors. Respiratory infections also tend to be particularly worrisome for seniors,” an emailed statement from the department said.

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Information Morning – NS8:56NSGEU reacts to recent COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes

It’s respiratory illness season again. This week, the province confirmed 20 outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. Sandra Mullen, president of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, shares her members’ concerns.

It continued: “While every case is a concern, long-term care administrators have the expertise and the experience to manage all respiratory outbreaks. They continue to apply the infection prevention and control, and occupational health tools needed to manage respiratory infections in their homes during outbreaks.”

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Mullen said it’s up to the discretion of each facility to implement any screening or masking requirements for staff and visiting relatives, but the union recommends that everyone wear a mask in these facilities.

“I’m seeing more folks using masks in public places and it should be returning to — it’s OK to put that mask on,” she said.

“You know, we should encourage that to protect, not only the staff and residents, but the families. We want that visitation ability to continue, right? It’s best for the resident to be able to have family and friends come in.”

A woman with glasses.
Sandra Mullen, the president of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union, is reminding people to take precautions when visiting loved ones in long-term care this season. (Submitted by Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union)

Mullen recognized that COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are something “we’re going to have to always deal with.”

“Absolutely take care and precaution. And just like all of us, if you’re not feeling well, stay home,” she said.

“And if you have a bit of a cough cold, wear the mask when you go. It’s much better to be there with a mask than to not be there at all.”

Respiratory illnesses affecting staff

Mullen said the number of respiratory illnesses in long-term care homes has also been affecting staff, with some facilities operating “25-30 per cent short every day.”

She said this means other staff are required to pick up more hours, which may run them down and make them more susceptible to viruses coming in.

“There is so much work in this field that folks are definitely having choice of where they work, but certainly working short [staffed] in a facility doesn’t help the ones who are there,” she said.

“And so we know that as Nova Scotians, we have to look after ourselves and the loved ones in these facilities.”

Home care concerns

Following provincial cabinet on Thursday, Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care Barbara Adams addressed concerns about continuing-care assistants providing home care without masking requirements during flu season.

“We know that COVID is in all of our communities and all of our administrators are concerned about the safety and well-being of both the residents, as well as the staff, and they know how to manage their operations,” Adams told reporters.

She said any continuing-care assistant who works in a facility or provides home care must “assess the needs of themselves and the person they’re providing care for,” following a policy that has been in place for over three years.

“And we are encouraging everyone to follow the best practices: the washing of the hands and wearing of a mask if they are producing symptoms, and we are encouraging certainly everybody to get their vaccine mandates.”

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