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Ford tosses a bone to LTC advocates; Solutions to frontline staffing issues needed now – not later

Posted: November 5, 2020

(November 4, 2020)

By: Sue-Ann Levy,

So again, dozens of people in long-term care (LTC) homes are infected with the virus in the second wave of COVID-19.

Some 89 residents have died since Sept. 18 and the infection rates have skyrocketed, according to the Ontario Health Coalition.

Staffing shortages remain a problem.

The Ford government was told months ago that staffing of frontline personal support workers (PSWs) was – and still is – a problem and one which created the massive cases of neglect in facilities that saw COVID sweep through.

What does Premier Doug Ford do? Instead of addressing the staffing issue head-on as Quebec and B.C. did up to six months ago, he announced his commitment to four hours of quality care per resident in LTC homes.

But there’s one catch. The so-called gold standard won’t be achieved for four to five years! In addition, the Ford government admits they’ll have to educate and recruit “tens of thousands” of new PSWs, registered practical nurses and registered nurses to achieve this goal.

They are starting this fall with 3,700 new frontline workers.

It made a good headline. Trouble is, it does nothing – absolutely nothing – to improve conditions for residents now.

As Ontario Health Coalition Executive Director Natalie Mehra noted Tuesday, all of the people in LTC homes now will likely “never see” the promised changes in their lifetime.

“I find that horrible,” she said.

As do I. She said the plan has no timelines attached to it or concrete targets – with a provincial election in between.

Meanwhile, the government has provided few measures to tackle staffing.

Unlike Quebec, which launched a recruitment drive and increased wages for PSWs four months ago, and B.C.

which engaged in similar measures six months ago, Ontario officials essentially sat on their hands during the summer when there was a decrease in the cases.

There was no mass recruitment drive, no improvement in wages and working conditions that would lure people to this kind of work, Mehra said.

She added she’s “speechless” that the province didn’t recruit 5,000 frontline workers, train them and have them ready in the LTC homes for what is occurring now.

“This is the priority … this has to be the priority,” she said.

It’s sad to think the government allowed itself to be caught flat-footed – yet again – but I see the fallout of their laissezfaire approach to doing what’s right for seniors.

My dad’s dementia facility, sadly, is in the midst of a COVID outbreak which has hit frontline caregivers more than the residents.

Thankfully my dad is OK so far. But they’re scrambling to get replacements in to help.

Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University, who has been advocating tirelessly for six months for LTC residents and their families, agrees with Mehra.

While the gold standard of four hours is “good news,” the targeted timeline of 2024-25 is “simply unacceptable,” she insisted.

She said the thousands of workers that need to be hired to achieve this gold standard could have already been in place if the government had acted proactively.

She said the June hiring blitz in Quebec – which offered training and a starting salary of $50,000-got 69,000 applications in just three days.

“Ontario should and could have acted sooner and residents now must now suffer the consequences of (Long-term Minister Merrilee) Fullerton’s inaction over the summer months.”

Mehra said she feels the possible changes are so far down the road, people are going to die in the meantime and that’s “just heartbreaking.”

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