The Northwood nursing home on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner

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Approximately 450 hourly paid people who worked at Northwood have yet to receive a one-time payment of up to $2,000 to recognize their dedication during the pandemic this spring. They aren’t the only ones waiting for their pay but could be among the most deserving since they were at the epicentre of the outbreak. 

While thousands of front-line health care workers in many Nova Scotia hospitals and nursing homes have received this taxable benefit, others have not, despite the fact the pay covers the four month period, March 13 – July 12, that ended over 11 weeks ago

The province left it up to each nursing home (privately owned or community-run) to get a signed declaration from each worker and submit an invoice to the Department of Health by the end of August. All funds were supposed to be disbursed by the end of September (tomorrow), according to a government news release last July. 

However, an email yesterday from Department of Health spokesperson Marla MacInnis states that the province “extended the August deadline” for Northwood. MacInnis says Northwood’s invoice and some from other long-term care homes are currently being reviewed. The Department of Health did not respond to a question asking how many of the more than 45,000 workers who were deemed eligible for the benefit have yet to receive it.

The Examiner has confirmed the money has begun to flow.

Here is a list of the job classifications Nova Scotia approved July 7 for the $94 million in pandemic pay, $80 million of which flowed from Ottawa. Managers were not eligible unless they worked in hospitals.

Eligible employees include publicly funded:
• continuing-care providers (long-term care, home care, and home support services, physio, recreation, and support services in the sector)
• residential care workers in the Disability Support Program (group homes)
• paramedics
• 811 staff
• transition house staff
• homeless shelter staff
• laboratory staff, and
• various front-line staff within the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK including registered nurses, cleaners, and anyone having direct contact with patients.

The cheque is in the mail…

Paramedics got their cheques last week and most people who work in hospitals employed by the Nova Scotia Health Authority (now Nova Scotia Health) appear to have received this top-up. 

Those who work in long-term care appear to be waiting longer and they are among the lowest paid. Continuing Care Assistants earn between $16 and $18 an hour. 

The Examiner reached out to several representatives from different unions — Unifor, CUPE, and NSGEU — to try and figure out which workers have yet to be paid. None could provide a definitive answer to what still appears to be a work-in-progress. 

Louise Riley chairs the long-term care committee for Canadian Union for Public Employees (CUPE ) in Nova Scotia. She told the Examiner some of the homes where her members work have received the premium while others have not. Riley suggested one reason some homes are waiting is because they tried to claim the benefit for workers who have been declared ineligible. Examples include people who work in kitchens preparing food or in supply rooms where there is no contact with residents. 

Back in July, Jason MacLean, the president of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union expressed his disappointment the pandemic premium wasn’t available to non-health care essential workers such as child-protection workers who must enter family homes as well as dietary staff in homes and hospitals.

“Basically, any health care worker that did not have patient or resident contact will not be eligible to receive the funds,” said MacLean in a letter to NSGEU members.

Northwood spokesperson Murray Stenton confirmed the nursing home has not yet received government funding for the pandemic premium but offered no further explanation. The non-profit corporation has assets worth tens of millions of dollars. According to the July news release from the province, nursing homes had the option of advancing workers the money with the knowledge they would be reimbursed by government by the end of this month.

Prime Minister Trudeau announced the “pandemic premium” in April. Ontario and Quebec were the first provinces to sign up, contribute, and pay out the “top up” to help retain essential health-care workers who worked long hours and were on the front-lines during the first wave of COVID-19. 

On May 8, Premier Stephen McNeil’s government agreed to contribute $14 million to the $80 million provided by Ottawa to top up wages and demonstrate appreciation for health-care workers. Union leaders who represent workers at the bottom of the economic ladder (cleaners and continuing care assistants) welcomed the initiative but challenged both levels of government to make the top-up permanent if they want to resolve chronic staff shortages.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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