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Nurses and PSWs at Sienna Senior Living St. George Care Community wave from the windows as a support rally takes place in front of the building, in Toronto, on Jan. 7.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

One of Canada’s largest retirement home operators, Sienna Senior Living Inc. , is awarding $3-million of shares to its 13,000 employees to recognize their work during the pandemic and to foster a sense of ownership in the company.

On Thursday, Markham, Ont.-based Sienna announced that all full-time workers who have been in the ranks for more than a year will receive $500 in stock, while part-time workers will get $300 in shares. Employees will need to hold their shares in the Toronto Stock Exchange-listed company for a minimum of six months. Sienna executives said this is the first time a Canadian retirement-home operator has offered equity ownership to all its staff.

“As colleagues, we already have a common purpose – to care for and serve Canada’s seniors, ensuring they live in utmost comfort, respect and dignity,” Sienna chief executive Nitin Jain said in an internal employee letter. “Now, as joint owners in the company, we will share a deeper commitment to building a stronger future for residents, communities and each other.”

Sienna operates 83 retirement and long-term care homes in Ontario and British Columbia, with facilities for more than 11,000 seniors. The 49-year-old company has faced COVID-19 outbreaks at a number of its facilities since March, 2020. In announcing the share award, Mr. Jain said: “As professionals in seniors living, you bring your whole selves to work every day – your compassion, skills and dedication to providing residents with a positive and caring experience. This has always been true, but never more obvious than throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

Since the pandemic began, Sienna has hired additional medical staff, ramped up its communications systems to help family members stay in touch with residents and introduced enhanced training on infection protection and control.

Sienna also launched an employee share ownership program that will see the company contribute $1 for every $3 its employees invest in the company. Mr. Jain said many of Sienna’s employees have never owned stock before, and the company is introducing programs to teach the basics of investing and financial planning. The average annual salary for a full-time retirement home worker is $44,000, according to a survey done by recruiting service Talent.com.

Sienna’s stock price has risen 49 per cent over the past 12 months, and the company now has a $1-billion market capitalization. Employee shareholders will find a little more cash in their accounts, as Sienna pays a monthly common share dividend that comes to 94 cents a year – about a 6-per-cent yield.

Sienna rolled out its employee share ownership program just as for-profit long-term care homes are being scrutinized over their performance during the pandemic. One of the largest retirement home operators in the country, Revera Inc., is owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, which manages $204-billion for unionized federal employees. One of the PSP Investment Board’s largest union members, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, recently called for the pension plan to divest its stake in Revera. The union advocates transferring ownership of the retirement homes to provincial governments.

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