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Caring in Crisis: Ontario’s Long-Term Care PSW Shortage

Posted: February 3, 2020

(February 3, 2020)

By: Christopher Oldcorn, SaultOnline

Today, the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) held a press conference at Unifor’s Sault office. They released a report on the shortage of Personal Support Workers (PSW) in long-term care facilities. OHC is an organization protecting public healthcare.

This announcement was part of a province-wide tour bringing attention to the problem of PSW shortages which has critical local consequences. PSWs provide the daily hands-on care for the 80,000 long-term care residents.

Unifor commissioned The Caring in Crisis report and the OHC wrote it to analyze the PSW crisis in Ontario’s long-term care facilities. It comprised round-table meetings across the province with home operators and administrators, PSWs, union representatives, family councils, seniors, college staff who develop and coordinate PSW courses, local health coalitions, and other long-term care advocates. The eight round-table meetings included 354 participants.

Hisham Shokr, the Research and Campaigns Director for the OHC, said, “It is no overstatement to call the situation a crisis. Long-term care homes reported they are working with shortages on almost all shifts, every day. This impacts everyone. The conditions of work are the conditions of care. The issue is systemic. We are calling for action to be taken at the provincial level.”

The five key issues in the report were:

  • Critical PSW Staffing Shortage
  • Increasing Acuity (complexity of care needs)
  • Impacts on Care
  • Impacts on Working Conditions
  • Recruitment and Retention

The Ford government has announced additional long-term care beds for the province. The problem is the existing long-term care facilities are understaffed including PSWs. Hospitals have offloaded some aspects of healthcare to long-term care facilities.

Cathy Humalamaki, Unifor Local 1359 President, said “an increase of 25% of PSWs” is needed to fill open positions. There is a high turnover rate amongst PSWs because of low pay for the difficult work they do daily. Shokr mentioned that “PSWs are voting with their feet” as they leave the profession.

One local example, a PSW graduate came for her first shift at a long-term care facility. She left after lunch and never came back.

A local example of unsafe working conditions involved a PSW on a night shift looking after 64 residents because every other PSW called in sick. The PSW responded to a resident ringing a help bell. She attempted to help the male resident. However, he fell on her and knocked her unconscious. Another staff member found her still unconscious.

The system cannot accommodate more beds without additional PSWs and other healthcare staff. Shortages reported on practically every shift and weekends are worse. It hit rural areas the worse, and the system hit a crisis point. There are waitlists across the province.

Will Ross Romano and the Ford government listen?

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