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Op-ed: Nova Scotia needs to fund more dementia training in long term care facilities

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – As a front-line worker I noticed a recurring traumatizing experience that many people with mild to severe dementia were facing in care facilities – namely the lack of reality orientation. Reality orientation is a technique that helps people who live with dementia connect with their surroundings.

The first time I encountered this  was when a staff member repeatedly informed a resident that his wife had been deceased for five years when that resident kept asking for a cab home to his wife. The emotional and physiological feelings that this resident faced each time that morning were intense and shocking.

Could  staff have handled this better? Without a doubt. To me this spoke to  the lack of ongoing dementia training.

We have mostly all done them, the 30-minute online training for Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) or the Workplace Ethics Training, yet we still have almost 25,000 Workers’ Compensation Board claims and approximately 2,400 inquires to the Human Rights Commission in a year. Why? Is it because these courses aren’t effective? Or, is it because the focus is to check off that requirement in orientation to be compliant for our governing and licensing bodies, rather than to genuinely learn?

The government of Nova Scotia needs to stop cutting back money from long-term care facilities and start investing in education for its front line staff. After all, our aging population is  a growing concern.

The Rising Tide report, a study on the impact of dementia by the Alzheimer Society, suggests  that a strengthening of Canada’s dementia workforce is very necessary.  We need to focus on continuing education in a person-centered approach, meaning each resident has  a personalized care plan that fit their daily needs.

However, we can’t expect residential facilities to create tailored care for its clients when the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness only funds and requires 2.45 Continuing Care Assistant (CCA) hours per day per resident. A dementia diagnosis does not conform to this minimal requirement. Many experts say that residents should receive minimally double the current hours per day, this would require the government to channel more funding into Continuing Care to support an increase in hours.

It is irresponsible for Health and Wellness not to increase the number of CCA hours for residents in care facilities. We are paying the price  for this neglect in the number of reported incidents in facilities due to lack of staff to observe and navigate behaviors

Nova Scotia needs a provincial long term care strategy that revisits training and staffing hours so that the care facilities can provide the optimal care that is required by its residents.

To be placed in a care facility at such a vulnerable stage in our lives can be traumatizing, so it is our responsibility to ensure that we speak openly about these concerns. We must speak up for those that do not have a voice, and those that voices that may not be perceived as valuable in our society. 

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