Call bells in seniors care homes out-of-date, ineffective

A new report from Saskatchewan’s Provincial Auditor addresses concerns about seniors in care homes suffering falls – and raises the alarm about life-saving call-bell systems that don’t work.

According to an audit released Tuesday, “discussions with management indicated the call bell systems in a number of long-term care facilities were outdated presenting limitations in their effectiveness.” There are plans to repair some “as finances allow.”

The audit looked only at the Prairie North Health Region, but NDP Health critic Danielle Chartier said it echoes a big red flag raised by recently released reports from CEO tours of seniors care homes.

“Call bells are a lifeline,” said Chartier. “Sometimes it’s for help to the bathroom and sometimes it’s a very serious medical emergency. When a senior pushes their call button, they deserve to know that help is on the way, fast. But what we saw come up again and again in the CEO tour reports is not only that call bells weren’t able to be answered in a timely fashion – in far too many cases, they actually weren’t working at all. This is a major infrastructure issue that should be a top priority.”

Low staffing levels following the Sask. Party’s 2011 elimination of adequate-staffing laws cause ringing call bells to go unanswered for 30, 60 and even 90 minutes, according to the government’s own reports. However, the latest reports show many call-bell systems are malfunctioning or not even working at all.

The 2015 CEO tours reported:

  • “Nurse call system is failing throughout the building and placing patients at risk,” at the Battleford District Health Centre.
  • “Extra walking is done because call bell system does not all communication from resident rooms to nursing stations,” at the Central Haven Special Care Home in Saskatoon
  • “The nurse call system is not working well and parts are no longer available,” in Extendicare Saskatoon
  • “The nurse call system, while not old, breaks down frequently,” in Golden Acres in Wynyard
  • “Require a new nurse call system,” in Jubilee Home in Lloydminster

“With the Sask. Party, it seems that money is no object when it comes to spending on bloated management, Lean promoters and nonsense Lean workshops and meetings,” said Chartier. “But the basic tools that keep seniors in care safe – tools that save lives – are left not functioning, waiting for extra money to be available as if they're a luxury.

“The misplaced priorities of the Sask. Party government are really getting out of hand.”