The Westbank First Nation in B.C.’s Central Okanagan is permanently closing its only long-term care facility on the reserve due to a shortage of staff members who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Indigenous community announced it expects to shut down its 63-bed Pine Acres Home in January 2022, after all residents have transitioned to other care facilities.
Westbank First Nation Chief Christopher Derickson says the care facility is short of staff who fulfil the provincial requirements for long-term care workers to be vaccinated.
The province has required all long-term care and assisted-living employees to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 12, and the second dose within 35 days of the first — or take a mandatory leave of absence without pay.
“We’ve lost 15 staff in total, staff are facing burnout — there’s a lot of pressure on the frontline health-care workers during the pandemic,” Derickson said Thursday to host Sarah Penton on CBC’s Radio West.
“We are down to a significant number of staff to the point where the staff that are there are working double shifts over time, putting in those extra hours to ensure that we can maintain our duty of care to the residents,” he said, although he declined to say how many staff are currently working.
Established in 1983, Pine Acres Home serves Indigenous elders from Westbank and other First Nations, as well as non-Indigenous seniors across the Okanagan. Two-thirds of the beds in the facility are funded by the Interior Health authority.
Derickson says the home is currently under-occupied with only 40 residents, because many care workers were unvaccinated and residents moved away or died.
He says it’s a tough decision to close Pine Acres Home for good, partly because many staff members have worked in the facility for decades.
“A lot of people have worked there for their entire careers … and have just come to love working for Pine Acres and for the Westbank First Nation community, and called [them] family,” he said.
He says the home also means a lot to him personally.
“For some of our members, myself included, Pine Acres has always been a part of the community,” he said. “My grandmother was a resident there. I have family members currently in that facility now.”
Derickson says the First Nation is working with Interior Health to transition Pine Acres residents to other care homes.
Meanwhile, he says he hopes more health-care workers will get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“When you have people who are working with vulnerable individuals with underlying health conditions, I think it’s important that we all do what we can to protect those people,” he said.
“I understand there are people who, for their own personal reasons, don’t want to get the vaccine, but I hope that some do over time come around to accepting that vaccinations are a way to navigate our way out of this pandemic.”