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‘Absolutely a crisis’; Oxford social justice group adds voice to those concerned with PSW shortage

Posted: February 13, 2020

(February 12, 2020)

By: Kathleen Saylors, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

The Oxford Coalition for Social Justice is adding its voice to the chorus of Ontarians concerned with the critical shortage of personal support workers in the province’s long-term care homes.

Sparked by a just-released report commissioned by the Ontario Health Coalition and Unifor, the union that represents Ontario’s PSWs, health-care advocates are raising the alarm about what they are calling a growing “crisis.”

“Last year, Unifor called for eight roundtables to be held across the province to discuss what problems our members had been bringing forward to us,” said Melissa Holden, a member of the Oxford Coalition for Social Justice. “That is (now) this report … and it is absolutely a crisis.”

On Tuesday, the union and the Ontario Health Coalition were in Woodstock for a joint press conference, one of many they’ve held in recent days about the report’s findings. The most troubling finding from the public consultations is the rate of burnout in the profession. According to the report, Caring in Crisis, chronic understaffing results in only one to two PSWS working most shifts – or five to 10 during a typical 24-hour period. Coupled with low wages and a heavy workload, the turnover is continuous.

In rural and northern parts of the province, the shortages can be even more dire.

“The findings were that PSWs are experiencing extraordinary amounts of burnout. We are not retaining long-term workers anymore,” Holden said.

“I have been a PSW for more than 30 years – that is just not happening anymore.”

Carolyn Ford, a 28-year PSW who attended the Woodstock press conference, also experienced the system when her mother was ill and the family used longterm care for respite.

“I have seen both ends of … the situation. The long-term care home did the best with what they were given,” Ford said. “As a PSW, we can certainly do more better with more time and education, but there needs to be improvement.”

Residents aren’t getting enough care, Ford suggested, because of overall staffing shortages and the accompanying stress. More are leaving the profession, and are at risk of injury and burnout, she added.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said the province is currently developing a long-term care staffing strategy that will be implemented by the end of this year.

“Recognizing that a motivated workforce is critical to a sustainable long-term care system, we are working to improve working conditions to promote recruitment and retention in order to meet current and future staffing needs,” spokesperson Rebecca Bozzato said via email.

Barry Harper, whose wife has been in long-term care for three years, spoke about his experiences and how staffing shortages impacted his wife’s care.

“I am very thankful for the job PSWs did for my wife,” Harper said. “It’s a hard and thankless job. It is very difficult for PSWs to work in an environment where things suddenly happen.

Harper recounted a telephone call from his wife’s care home telling him she had gone missing.

“Now they have a situation where they have to call the police to help find my wife,”he said.

Holden urged Ontarians to lobby their MPPs to support private member’s Bill 13, the Time to Care bill, which is set to be reintroduced later this year by London MPP Teresa Armstrong. That bill mandates that long-term care homes provide residents with at least four hours per day of nursing and personal support services.

“I am hoping … people reach out to their MPPs and ask them to support the Time to Care Bill 13,” she said. “We’re asking they put pressure on local MPPs to support that bill.”

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