West Kelowna  

Westbank's Pine Acres care home closing, worker vaccine mandate blamed

Care home closing down

A seniors care home on Westbank First Nation land is closing for good come January, due to staffing shortages after many employees refused to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Pine Acres Home has been in operation since 1983. Staff at the facility were informed of the impending closure Wednesday morning. WFN announced the closure publicly late Wednesday night.

Chief Christopher Derickson said in a news release the Westbank First Nation was proud to have a long-term care facility on reserve for almost 40 years.

"Pre-COVID, our plan was to expand the facility, to enhance its long-term feasibility; but in these unstable times in the health-care industry, compounded with the new public health order for mandatory COVID vaccinations for health-care workers, we have found ourselves unable to continue to ensure sufficient staffing levels in providing high-quality care to our residents,” Derickson said.

The staffing concerns by all stakeholders forced the "difficult but necessary" to start the process of closing the care home's doors.

Pine Acres home provides 63 beds for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous seniors in the community, and Interior Health funds 40 of the beds.

Westbank First Nation, noting the declining number of member-residents at the facility in recent years, said prior consultations with members had raised questions about if Pine Acres was still meeting their needs.

One employee of the care home, who asked not to be identified, told Castanet that a significant portion of the care home work force had refused to be vaccinated. The province's vaccine mandate for care home staff came into effect Oct. 12, and the employee says the care home has been facing staffing shortages as a result.

“We've had a lot of overtime, because we have to have the people for the residents, so there's been lots of overtime and that costs money,” the employee said.

Interior Health is working with families of residents on the transition to other care homes. Staff are being informed of "available job opportunities to continue working in long-term care in the Central Okanagan."

Last week, Health Minister Adrian Dix said 96 per cent of the province's long-term care staff had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Those who opt not to get immunized face termination "with cause."

The impending closure came as a surprise to staff at Pine Acres, with some having worked there for upwards of 30 years.

“Everybody's in tears right now,” the employee said.

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