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Coalition says LTC staffing was in crisis before COVID-19, is ‘unspeakable’ now

Posted: July 24, 2020

(July 23, 2020)

By: Len Gillis,

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The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) is calling on the Ontario Government to take immediate action to boost the staffing levels at long-term care homes, which the OHC says has staffing levels just as bad or worse than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition’s claim follows the release of the results of a survey taken in the second week of July of more than 150 staff members from long-term care homes in every part of the province that indicate that most homes do not have enough staff to provide proper care for the residents. Survey respondents were employed at 75 long-term care homes, representing for-profit, not-for-profit and municipal homes the survey study said.

Of those who responded to the survey, 95 per cent said they were working short staffed.

“We have been hearing from staff for weeks that things are worse than ever; that the staffing levels are worse than ever,” said Natalie Mehra, the author of the study and executive director of the health coalition.

Mehra said the survey showed 53 per cent responded that their workplace is understaffed every day or virtually every day of the week. Fifteen per cent reported they are understaffed one to three days a week.

Mehra said the survey also showed that the respondents believe staffing levels are worse than before the pandemic happened. Mehra also said in many cases it was revealed that staff members will call in sick and not show up for work because they are tired, overworked and afraid they are unable to continually perform mandated duties.

“Most of the homes report that when staff call in they are unable to be replaced and of course call-ins are very high because people have not had any time off,” said Mehra.

She said the upshot is that for many residents, it means they go without bathing and proper washing. Mehra explained that at least two persons are required to use the hoisting device to place a person in a bathtub, but when not enough staff are on hand, then the patients get a bed bath, but only if there is time.

Mehra said staff members also reported that many of the other personal services that residents were accustomed to are not being done, when the home is short staffed. This includes things such as brushing teeth, hair care, nail care and shaving.

She also mentioned that emotional care is something that gets ignored when staff are too rushed to spend any extra time with the residents.

“Staff have not had time to explain COVID-19 to residents who are confused,” said Mehra. “They don’t have time to visit with them. They really struck an emotional chord with staff. They report that residents are lonely. They miss their families. They report said that residents are sad; they’re depressed and staff does not have time to provide emotional care.”

Understaffing also contributes to the problem of staff members being rushed when they have to care for residents, often resulting in a lower standard of care.

As part of the OHC announcement, long-term care workers were invited to join by video-conference. One of those was Shelley Smith, a Personal Support Worker (PSW) from a home in southwestern Ontario. She said many homes have lost staff, yet they continue to operate, and the pressure continues for the staff members to perform mandatory daily services such as helping patients get washed, get assistance with toilet functions, getting dressed and getting fed.

Smith said staff members are always worried about not being able to correctly do their jobs.

“So now we’re going in. We know we’re working short just to begin our day. Some staff are fearful prior to going in because of the anxiety level. How am I going to accomplish my work today?” said Smith.

“The anxiety level is high because they worry about the consequences of not getting it all done,” she added. “When we talk about staff being short, they work through their breaks. They work through their lunches to try to provide the best care they can,” said Smith.

It was also revealed that for-profit homes pay the poorest wages to their staffers, with some earning less than the current CERB (Canada Emergency Care Benefit) payments. It was recommended that PSWs should be given substantial wage increases.

Other care workers gave similar comments. Mehra said it makes a clear case that announcements from the provincial government about building new care homes is not enough. In resolving issues brought to the fore by the pandemic.

“We are asking the Ford government to take action as a priority to deal with the staffing emergency in long-term care,” she said.

“It was a crisis before COVID-19. The conditions are unspeakable now. Action needs to be taken. The government has announced new long-term care homes. Who is going to staff those beds? There aren’t enough staff for the existing beds in long-term care.”

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