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Coalition demands action on LTC

Posted: July 23, 2020

(July 22, 2020)

By: Colleen Romaniuk, Nipawin Journal

Staff across the province continue to describe staffing shortages in long-term care homes as “heartbreaking,” and are warning the Ford government that the province’s facilities are not prepared for a second wave of COVID-19. 

The Ontario Health Coalition released the results of a survey distributed to more than 75 long-term care (LTC) homes throughout the province on July 22. 

According to the results, 95 per cent of the Ontario LTC staff who responded to the survey report staffing shortages. Over half of the respondents indicated that the staffing shortages were experienced every day or virtually every day. 

“Most commonly, staff reported that long-term care homes are short PSWs, RPNs, and RNs, but also housekeeping, dietary and laundry staff,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the OHC. 

“This means that basic care can’t happen. When they describe the care that isn’t happening, it is hair-raising. Basic care, the things that keep people alive, are not being done on a regular basis in a majority of these homes. This is extremely distressing to us.” 

It was also determined that conditions have worsened since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 63 per cent of respondents reported that staffing levels are worse since the pandemic began. 

In total, 150 surveys were completed by staff who work in LTC facilities between July 10 and 17. Homes ranged from 55 beds to 540 beds and over half of the completed surveys were submitted from for-profit homes. 

Most of the survey respondents (34 per cent) were located in southwest Ontario, which includes Windsor and Sarnia to Kitchener-Waterloo. About 3 per cent of surveys were submitted from northwestern Ontario, and 7 per cent were submitted from northeastern Ontario. 

“Staff report that they worked without vacations, without stat holidays, without weekends off now during the pandemic. They’ve had time off denied. In many of the homes, they are reporting dozens of staff lines empty. That means there are no staff to fill that position at all,” said Mehra. 

“When we asked what kind of care couldn’t be done, the results were deeply disturbing. Most of the homes, more than 100 of the staff, reported that baths can’t be done. Residents are regularly going without bathing or proper washing.”

More than 50 staff said that feeding cannot be done appropriately in these conditions, which can lead to dehydration and malnourishment.

Staff also report that there is no time to provide adequate emotional support or appropriate palliative care to residents. Late and rushed care is reported as happening almost all of the time. 

While this problem existed before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the pandemic has made the situation worse. 

Mehra estimated that 8,000 healthcare workers in Ontario on the front lines of the pandemic have become infected with COVID-19. Of that number, about 1,900 have died. 

LTC homes in Ontario have also been particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of the virus.  

“The Health Coalition is warning Ontario’s long-term care homes are not ready for a second wave of COVID-19. Quebec and British Columbia’s governments have intervened, improving wages, providing full-time work, paying for staff training, engaging in recruitment to get staffing levels up to safety,” said a press release issued by the coalition. 

“These have not happened in Ontario despite repeated calls for the same measures and a deep consensus among advocates that the government must set a minimum care standard of an average minimum of 4-hours of care per resident per day.”

On May 28, the coalition issued an open letter to Doug Ford signed by more than 200 organizations representing two million Ontarians calling for immediate action, however, the coalition reports that nothing has yet been done to address the staffing emergency. 

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