Berwick on the Lake seniors’ facility in Nanaimo. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Berwick on the Lake seniors’ facility in Nanaimo. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo seniors’ facility to phase out licensed care unit

Unit at Berwick on the Lake will shut down over ‘phased’ one-year timeline

A retirement complex in Nanaimo is preparing to reduce service as it phases out long-term care.

Due to ongoing labour market challenges, the licensed care unit Berwick on the Lake will be closed, Berwick Retirement Communities announced in a press release. Licensed care, also known as a nursing home, offers medication and care for people who aren’t able to move around.

Hiring, training and retention of staff in the current economic climate is difficult and the situation isn’t forecast to change anytime soon, the press release said.

Lesley Sikorski, Berwick Retirement Communities’ director of sales and marketing, told the News Bulletin the unit provides long-term care to 27 residents and will be shuttered “over a phased 12-month period.” It was a “difficult decision” that wasn’t taken lightly, she said.

“We’re not changing anything at this point in time with respect to the staffing and the care levels that we give the residents,” she said.

Berwick is working with families and residents during the closure period to help them find alternative placement. If residents are still in the unit after 12 months, Berwick will expedite working with them or their case manager to find an alternative placement in the area. There are two similar care units in Victoria and any residents wishing to relocate there will get first priority, Sikorski said.

Twenty-four positions, nurses and care aides, are among those whose employment could be affected, but Berwick promises to offer resources “to help polish their [curriculum vitae]” and offer reference letters.

Isobel Mackenzie, B.C. seniors’ advocate, told the News Bulletin the service reduction “reflects the growing challenge that providing good, long-term care services is very costly and difficult.”

“What this signifies is what I think we might see a little bit more of, which is the cost pressures for providing long-term care in the private market are increasing and that is going to cause the people who deliver these services to make certain business decisions, as Berwick did in this case,” said Mackenzie. “I think the fact we require the one-year notice is a good thing … it will give the time for a transition plan and a new spot to be found for the people who are who are living there and we just all hope it will go as smoothly as it can.”

The Hospital Employees’ Union represents Berwick on the Lake employees and in an e-mail, Meena Brisard, HEU secretary business-manager, expressed disappointment.

“Our seniors’ care system is fragile and fragmented after 20 years of privatization and under-investment by the former B.C. Liberal government,” she said. “Years of low wages, heavy workloads, and pandemic burnout means that employers are having a hard time filling jobs. A sustainable long-term care sector requires significant progress toward common working and caring conditions.”

Even if economic conditions improve, Sikorski said she doesn’t foresee a licensed care unit opening at Berwick’s Nanaimo facility again.

“What we have seen through COVID was incredible burnout for staff who [work] in health care…” she said. “It’s incredibly daunting to try to attract, train and retain health-care staff right now, and it’s become an unprecedented issue that has made us come to the decision that we need to re-look at the sustainability of our care unit [and the care of our residents].”

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