N.S. nursing home goes to Kenyan refugee camp to solve staffing shortage


A New Glasgow, N.S., nursing home believes part of the solution to a staff shortage is found at a Kenyan refugee camp.

Lisa M. Smith, the CEO of Glen Haven Manor, and several other representatives from Pictou County travelled to Kenya in November on the recruiting mission.

They conducted job interviews in Nairobi and at the Dadaab refugee camp, one of the largest such camps in the world.

“The calibre of the candidates was truly amazing. It was certainly more than we ever expected,” said Smith.

Glen Haven extended 11 job offers during the trip to Kenya. The home also made four offers to refugee candidates who were interviewed by Skype from Jordan and Lebanon, for a total of 15 new offers.

All the candidates have backgrounds as nurses or doctors, and will be working as continuing care assistants until they can get their Canadian credentials assessed.

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

“They were very excited and very emotional,” said Smith. “There were a few candidates that said they were thankful not only that we made the trip to Nairobi, but that we gave them their dignity back.”

The job offer includes the opportunity for candidates to move their families to Canada. That wasn’t something all the candidates knew about during the initial application, said Janice Jorden, the home’s employee relations specialist.

“There was a lot of tears of excitement. It’s not something I get to experience every day,” she said. “Of course, I make job offers all the time, we hire all the time, we’re a big organization. But to see that it makes that much of a change in their life, to see that excitement in their eyes, I don’t get to see that very often.”

Shaina Luck/CBC
Shaina Luck/CBC

The job offers depend on each candidate successfully applying to enter Canada through an economic immigration stream. That paperwork is underway right now, and Smith said she expects the first candidates will start arriving in New Glasgow within a few months.

Glen Haven is owned by the towns of New Glasgow, Stellarton, Trenton and Westville. It has 222 residents and 300 staff, but more staff members are required.

Although recruiters search locally and within Canada to attract continuing care assistants, the home hasn’t been able to fill 20 positions.

Five years ago, Glen Haven started to recruit internationally to fill the staffing gaps. So far, approximately 20 people have chosen to move from other countries to the Pictou County area, coming from as far away as the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

Noel Lagumbay moved to New Glasgow in 2015 with his girlfriend after researching Canada for about a year.

Both of them worked as registered nurses in the Philippines and became continuing care assistants at Glen Haven, and have transferred their credentials to become registered nurses in Canada. They have since married and are expecting a baby girl.

He said the move was a big change for himself and his wife, but the people were friendly and his aunt who lives nearby helped them adjust. Lagumbay dreamed of being a registered nurse as a child.

“I like talking to people and I get attached to them, so I think it helps a lot for me to pursue my profession,” he said. “I like my job and I like working with different kinds of people, hearing their stories and connecting with them.”

Steve Lawrence/CBC
Steve Lawrence/CBC

Lagumbay has some thoughts for the 15 new staff members who will soon be arriving from other countries.

“My only advice is just believe in yourself and continue to pursue your dream,” he said.

‘Unmistakable joy and gratitude’

That’s a point that isn’t always foremost in refugee resettlement, said Simar Singh, the senior programs manager at RefugePoint, the international organization that worked with Glen Haven to put together the longlist of candidates to interview.

Singh said refugees are often asked about painful memories that caused them to leave their homes.

She noticed many of Glen Haven’s candidates came out of the interviews pleasantly surprised they weren’t asked to talk about the difficulties they’ve endured, but about their skills and training.

“There was this unmistakable joy and gratitude that we felt, just sort of talking to all of these refugee candidates, where it seemed as though they had, even if it was just briefly, a moment to revisit aspects of their lives that they often are not asked about, or had to in some ways leave behind,” she said.

Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images
Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

Singh said one man came up to her after his interview and told her that “Even if this process doesn’t go further, this 30-minute interview has been the highlight of my year.”

Glen Haven is using economic immigration instead of sponsorship, which is the method many community groups traditionally use to bring refugee families to Canada.

Economic immigration doesn’t require the care home to give supports to their new employees, but Glen Haven has made plans for extra support anyway. It has leased one house and recently purchased another seven-bedroom home, so that all new employees arriving from outside of Pictou County will have a furnished home a few minutes walk from work.

Singh said if the Glen Haven model is successful, it could be used elsewhere in Canada. The project is being backed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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