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Families of elderly are asked if they can take loved ones home

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-03-26 Gabrielle Fahmy
Don Richmond looking at the camera: Christopher Mackay said he ignored the latest letter from the nursing home asking if he'd be able to pitch in more to help care for his parents. © CBC Christopher Mackay said he ignored the latest letter from the nursing home asking if he'd be able to pitch in more to help care for his parents.

Family members of people staying at some of the province's not-for-profit nursing homes were asked whether they would be able to take their loved ones home or pay to hire private care.

A strike has been avoided for at least two weeks, when a panel of three justices from New Brunswick's highest court will hear an appeal to essentially determine whether nursing home workers have the right to walk off the job.

In the meantime though, nursing homes are preparing for the worst, putting families at the centre of the dispute.

The Drew nursing home in Sackville sent families a letter Friday — a day after a judge ruled the appeal would go ahead on April 17 — asking whether they could take their residents home.

Alternatively, the letter said, a families should assign family members or friends to stay with residents in the home so can they can be cared for and fed during a strike.

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"My first thought after I read it was to close it and deal with it later," said Christopher Mackay, whose parents are at the Drew.

"It's a lot to take on. I live alone here, I'm an only child, I don't have any cousins or aunts or uncles in the neighbourhood, or in the province even, who can help out. So it's an awful lot to ask friends."

The letter offers a third option — hiring private care for the duration of the strike.

The letter's final section goes on to ask respondents to circle whether they'd like to volunteer in the kitchen, housekeeping, doing laundry or caring for other people's family members.

Mackay, who runs a graphic design business, said he can't afford private care. He doesn't live far from the nursing home, and figures he will have to go in a few times a day to make sure his parents are cared for. 

"It adds a lot of uncertainty, it makes it hard to plan what you're doing for work, for life, if you may be called on to step in and provide assistance like that," he said.

"It's a hard thing to deal with emotionally because of course you feel like you should be able to look after your parents. It's your duty as a son to do that. But you can't. It's too much. So what do you do?"

'No, no and no'

Over at the Lakeview Manor in Riverview, families received a similar letter Friday.

"At the request of our sector's provincial partners, we have been asked to continue to remain alert and be prepared for the unexpected," said the letter from executive director Kym Elder.

Elder went on to ask whether families could either take their loved ones home, assign family and friends to stay with them and provide care 24 hours a day, or hire private care.

"My response is 'no, no and no,'" said Stuart Lyons, whose mother, Marion, is at the home.

a sign on a brick building: Management at the Drew nursing home sent families a letter last Friday asking for their help. © CBC Management at the Drew nursing home sent families a letter last Friday asking for their help.

Lyons said the family already hires a private care worker to go in the home three days a week, six hours a day, to supplement the care the mother is receives at the home.

But that's costly, and paying for 24-hour care is beyond his family's ability.

He called the home's request completely unreasonable.

"If somebody wants me to go in and be able to pay for it, and take care of my mother, the government right now — who's currently taking all of my mother's cheque —   really think that they should give back some of that as a reimbursement so the family actually has money."

a screenshot of a cell phone screen with text: A copy of the letter Stuart Lyons received Friday from the nursing home asking for help. © CBC A copy of the letter Stuart Lyons received Friday from the nursing home asking for help.

The New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes said it simply provided supporting materials as guidance for each home to come up with a plan. The association wouldn't say anything else. 

"I think their backup plan really is the families — that's their backup plan. But it's not a feasible backup plan because we can't do it," said Lyons.

Lyons said he's been frantic ever since he received the first strike notice earlier this month.

"I was in tears," he recalled. "I didn't know what to do."

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