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Family raises concerns about quality issues at Amherst’s Northumberland Hall

Joan Skinner (left) and Beth MacKenzie look over just one of the emails they sent to Shannex regarding the care their late mother, Pat, was receiving at Northumberland Hall in Amherst. They feel their mother did not receive quality care. While not able to comment on the issue directly, officials from Shannex said they have been working to address staffing shortages there.
Joan Skinner (left) and Beth MacKenzie look over just one of the emails they sent to Shannex regarding the care their late mother, Pat, was receiving at Northumberland Hall in Amherst. They feel their mother did not receive quality care. While not able to comment on the issue directly, officials from Shannex said they have been working to address staffing shortages there. - Darrell Cole

Shannex says it is working to addressing staffing shortages among continuing care assistants

AMHERST, N.S. —

Pat Skinner died in late March, but her last few months were not pleasant ones.

Now, her daughters are going public with their concerns about the quality of care she received at an Amherst nursing home, Northumberland Hall.

“We have a long charting of the daily concerns we had with Shannex over the quality of care mom received,” Joan Skinner said. “It’s a story that’s personal in nature, but also one that seeks to shed light on the situation and hopefully be a catalyst for change.”

Skinner said the family chose Shannex for the promise of quality care featured in the literature about Northumberland Hall. It’s also a building that’s aesthetically pleasing.

“Mom’s wish was to have her own space and this facility offered that,” Beth MacKenzie said. “We quickly realized that we were not in a facility of quality care.”

According to Skinner the facility faced chronic staff shortages. She said she and MacKenzie believe this created safety concerns for both residents and staff.

Their mother moved into Northumberland Hall in January 2018. The family says they quickly noticed issues.

“Mom would request assistance and the response time between pressing a buzzer to have a need addressed and having someone show up to address that need could be anywhere from half an hour to two hours,” Skinner said.

The family began documenting.

“There was one day mom called me at work and it was 10 a.m.; she had been sitting in her chair since 8 a.m., waiting. Her bed was wet and there was no one to take care of her.”

According to Skinner, sometimes there were long waits for medication.

Both said there appeared to be a lack of communication between continuing care assistants (CCAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) as well as administration.

“There were issues with the timely administering of medications that were doctor ordered,” MacKenzie said. “Mom was on chemo and on two occasions she didn’t receive her medication until there was intervention by us and no one seemed accountable.”

Both Skinner and MacKenzie said they made numerous inquiries and complaints to the site manager and the company’s regional director but felt they were only getting “lip service.”

They say they even requested a meeting with the chairman of Shannex, but the request was denied.

“To us, this is a facility unable to meet patient needs and is not the quality of care that is advertised,” Skinner said. “As families we need to be advocates for change.”

They said they always received generic answers and the quality of care for their mother never changed. They would have moved their mother to another facility but she was frail.

Although there were issues, both Skinner and MacKenzie said there were “wonderful, caring” staff members there. However, it was overshadowed by their difficulties and concerns and the fact their mother didn’t feel secure there. It got to the point they hired private care and members of the family began providing care.

“We became her caregivers,” MacKenzie said.

Both Skinner and MacKenzie hope others with similar stories will speak out so systematic change is brought about.

Shannex responds

Neither Dana Power, regional director of enhanced care, nor Colchester-Cumberland area manager Kirsten Farago could comment on Skinner’s experience for privacy reasons.

In an interview with the Amherst News, both Power and Farago acknowledged there has been a shortage of CCAs at Northumberland Hall for quite some time.

However, they say it’s not isolated to Amherst. It’s being experienced at other Shannex properties as well as across the system.

CCAs provide direct care to residents including personal care and supporting them with dining, recreation and meeting their daily needs.

Power said Shannex is working to address the issue as quickly as possible.

“Our main and always number one priority at Shannex is the safety and care of our residents,” Power said. “In the sense of our staffing it’s critically important to us to make sure we have adequate staffing at Northumberland Hall and all our Shannex facilities. Over the last period of time we have been having some staffing challenges both at Northumberland Hall (and) our other facilities and the entire sector is experiencing the same challenges.”

Power said there have been concentrated efforts to improve staffing at Northumberland Hall.

She says, for a short-term solution, Shannex has been bringing in resources from other locations to support staffing in Amherst. Staff at Northumberland have also been offered the opportunity to take on more work.

“Those short-term mitigations have helped us get through this period of time,” Power said. “Looking ahead to the future, we know recruitment and retention of qualified and competent staff is something we need to be very focused on so we’re working with the community college (NSCC) by providing bursary programs. We’re providing opportunities for our current staff who aren’t CCAs that wish to become CCAs by offering education funding.”

Farago said 10 new CCAs were recently hired for Northumberland Hall and, along with the support from other Shannex facilities, the situation is much better.

She said there are approximately 68 full, part-time and casual CCAs at the facility.

Farago adds the management team at Northumberland Hall meets daily to discuss staffing needs and recruitment. As concerns came forward, she said, they were aware of the issues and working to manage and address those concerns.

Power said the company recently hired an immigration specialist and has worked to bring 130 newcomers to work at its facilities across Nova Scotia.

According to Power, every concern that’s raised by a family member is taken seriously. She said she feels in order to resolve issues appropriately residents, families and staff need to be involved.

“The goal is to work collaboratively toward solutions so that we’re in a position where we’re providing an appropriate response to that family and resident,” Power said.

She assures Northumberland Hall is a safe place for its residents and staff.

“We are fully confident in the ability of our staff to provide safe care for the residents and we would never waver from that statement,” Power said. “We do everything we can to ensure our staff are in a position to offer that safe, quality care.”

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