SENIORS EDITION: ‘There is just nobody:’ Aurora College works to keep up with staffing for elder care

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The Aurora College Bachelor of Science of Nursing and personal support worker programs and their relationship in providing elder care will be key in the coming years as  as the NWT population ages.

Both programs are similar and work closely together. Personal support workers provide bedside care and support, while nurses provide the detailed assessment and leadership direction for the resident/client.

Wanda Roberts, senior instructor for the personal support worker program and Dr. Kathie Pender, instructor in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program sat down with Yellowknifer recently to discuss how the college will be central to helping assist older people.

Wanda Roberts, senior instructor for personal support worker program, left, and Dr. Kathie Pender, of Aurora College.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

“We need to expand in the coming years as needs grow,” explained Roberts.

“Elderly people are in all areas of health care but the continuing care area is growing. So that means home care and so we need more support in terms of older adults aging in place and trying to remain home and independent as long as they can. Adding resources to home care to remain at home.”

Roberts said more long-term care beds are expected in Yellowknife, as well as the Beaufort Delta, Hay River and Fort Simpson in the coming years.

“That will be a huge human resources issue if we don’t start educating and expanding our programs,” she said.

In Yellowknife, this will mean 90 beds to be opened in 2022 at the Legacy Building – an additional 72 beds from what currently exist.

“So when we look at the quantity of staff required to provide support – that will be really expanding programs to meet those eventual human resource needs will be vital to provide adequate support,” she said. “You can’t have a building without staff.

“We are not even keeping up with staffing needs in the Northwest Territories for personal support workers and there are a lot of regions are hiring people and training on the job because there is just nobody.”

Since 2008, the college has seen about 150 personal support workers graduate, most of whom have gone on to work in the territory, Roberts said. In comparison, the BSN has graduated anywhere from 10 to 20 nurses per year, Pender said.

“Maintaining both programs and increasing enrollment, if possible, will meet some of the local demographic demand,” she said.

The demand for nurses and personal support will grow as the population per capita population is expected to almost double by 2035.

Roberts and Pender say that nursing and personal support worker care will help to ensure that seniors can either stay in their homes and communities or retire in the North rather than going south.

“You have to remember that retirement age is a new stage of life and one that we’re all approaching,” Pender said.

She added the Baby Boomers who have begun to enter their golden age are generationally different from their parents or grandparents in that they tend to be more active and tend to have better access to health care and other services.

“The demand for extracurricular and active living will increase as that is how we are living now,” Pender stated, noting that homes for the aged will require gyms (not just activity rooms and libraries). “It will also require things like a wide variety of foods to meet diverse palates, use of technology in care related and recreational activities … to name a few.”

A big part of how the nursing program has evolved to ensure that northern nurses are well trained to take care of northern seniors has come from Dr. Pertice Moffitt’s research. in 2015, the Aurora College health instructor published a study called Influences on Quality of Life of the Older Adult in the Northwest Territories.

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