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‘He was pretty much left to die’: Ongoing shortage of staff at care homes has loved ones across Peel worried

Posted: October 15, 2020

(October 14, 2020)

By: Nida Zafar, The Pointer

In the parking lot of a densely packed plaza that includes a Service Canada office, a couple small food establishments and a cluster of medical offices, a small group of people gather near the entrance of 10 Gillingham Drive in Brampton.

The bursts of cold air cutting through the small crowd aren’t as chilling as the stories people share.

Wiping away tears, Sarah Bateman speaks about her father, who she calls her “hero”. She recalls painful moments he suffered recently as a resident of The Village of Erin Meadows, a long-term care (LTC) facility in Mississauga.

Sarah Bateman had to watch from afar as her father suffered in a Mississauga care home

When her father and his roommate were rushed to the hospital back in March during a novel coronavirus outbreak, and after both tested positive for it, only her dad returned. A lack of symptoms meant he wouldn’t be admitted to the hospital.

But when he got back to the home, the care was less than adequate, Bateman recalls tearfully. Her father wasn’t eating or drinking. She tells The Pointer the family would constantly get calls from the home informing them that his time on this earth was running short. But no one was doing anything to help. His cerebral palsy demanded extra care, at a time when even basic needs were hard to look after.

“My dad was left in the room alone. No one came to help him. No one came to change him. No one came to feed [him], or help [him] go to the bathroom. He was pretty much left to die,” she says.

The only reason her father survived, Bateman says, was because her mother (who has stage four cancer) went into the home to care for him.

“My mom said ‘no, that’s not my husband. My husband’s going to make it,’” and brought along protein drinks and soft things for him to eat. “They made my mom go in and put her life at risk to help to save my dad. I have two young boys at home. I didn’t want to plan two funerals for their grandparents at the same time.”

Thankfully, her mother never contracted the virus. “She says chemo kills everything.”

Bateman was part of an event put on last week by the Peel Health Coalition (PHC), one of 23 similar ones held across the province. Those gathered had wanted a multi-pronged plan put forth by the provincial government, which would include: helping those residing in LTC homes receive at least four hours of hands-on care a day; the end of the for-profit care model; and finally addressing the staffing shortages that existed in homes across the province prior to the pandemic.

Speakers, like Bateman, shared their stories, and pleaded with the government to do more. Just above the streamers was a sign noting the location of Brampton PC MPP (Brampton West) Amarjot Sandhu’s office. He has remained silent on the issue. Questions from The Pointer asking what he has done to improve the ongoing situation, were not acknowledged or answered by his office. In many ways, Sandhu’s avoidance of the issue reflects the government’s general stance. This is what families are up against.

Brampton PC MPP Amarjot Sandhu has ignored calls asking about help for care homes

The province’s Long-term Care Staffing Study, released in July, shows staffing is a crisis that “needs to be urgently addressed.” While the report states this issue is not present in every care home in Ontario, calling it a “crisis” is appropriate.

Despite the report’s release, little has been done to address the dangerous staffing situation. The worry among families, meanwhile, continues to grow as the virus makes a resurgence across much of the GTA and Ottawa.

Bateman wants the Ford government to pay attention, and think less about the privileged few who can afford higher levels of care. If he sees the shocking picture through the eyes of children or grandchildren who have loved ones suffering in long-term care facilities, she hopes he will act. “They [Queen’s Park] need to take action and assess the management, assess the owners of the long-term care facilities because this world has become very selfish and money hungry,” she said.

Her words are part of much larger demands for improvements being voiced across the province, and while announcements have been made, groups such as the PHC, think more needs to be done. Much more.

Ford announced at the beginning of this month that personal support workers (PSW) in long-term care homes will get a pay increase of $3 per hour from October 1 to March 31, 2021. It’s possible this will be extended beyond that date. A benefit that existed over the summer gave PSWs a $4 per-hour pay bump, but that has expired. PSW’s are responsible for the lion’s share of personal care that residents need throughout the day, including feeding, bathing and changing clothes and bedding.

“We need to make sure that when our loved ones need care, there is a PSW there to support them, and that means retaining our PSWs and getting more [of them] into the system,” Ford said when announcing the pay raise.

His words haven’t translated into meaningful changes at most LTC homes.

Not only is the recent pay increase less than the earlier one, it’s not permanent. An earlier announcement made in late September, details a financial bonus for recent graduates of PSW programs who commit to a six-month work period but does not acknowledge existing PSWs who often put in gruelling hours to complete their tasks.

This includes $10.3 million going to an incentive program for 2,000 recent graduates from college programs. Another $700,000 is being targeted to accelerate PSW training for 220 more students in the province. Another $14 million is also allocated for “continued training of PSWs in the home and community care and long-term care sectors.”

Based on the announcement, Ford doesn’t call for the hiring of more than the 2,220 PSWs. There are currently about 58,000 PSWs across the province.

Mary Lou Kennedy, another speaker at the Brampton event, recalled how her mother, a resident at Grace Manor, was told she “can hold it” when she needed to use the restroom. She was told everyone is too busy to assist her. “My mom can’t go to the washroom by herself, she needs a machine to help lift her up. The PSW or the nurse has to be there to assist,” she explained.

Mary Lou Kennedy has been horrified by the treatment of her mother at a Brampton care home

She quickly added, “there aren’t enough nurses, there aren’t enough PSWs in the home to provide the care that these residents need. There just aren’t.”

Other provinces are doing what Ontario hasn’t done – hiring more PSWs. In September, British Columbia announced it will add 2,000 staff members to assist LTC homes, along with 5,000 healthcare aides. In June, Quebec said 10,000 orderlies will be hired to assist LTC homes by September, and 7,000 of them have been employed so far.

There’s a long history of problems at these homes and the pandemic only exacerbated the issue. Six LTC facilities in Peel have had recent outbreaks, and of 639 confirmed cases; 198 residents have passed away.

In April, staffing issues played a role when the Canadian Armed Forces had to be called in to help LTC care homes, including Brampton’s Grace Manor. A whistleblower report by the military in May stated a number of dangerous practices were observed, including staff moving between units without changing their personal protective equipment. A report issued when the military exited, stated problems such as training external staff still existed.

Ken Rawlins, the chief executive officer of Holland Christian Homes, which owns Grace Manor, told The Pointer previously that the military was requested specifically to assist with the staffing issue.

A number of people decided to stop working there after being told they could only work at one home.

During the first wave of the virus, 26 Grace Manor staffers were infected with the virus, further depleting the home’s resources.

Families want staff problems eliminated immediately, especially with the arrival of a second wave of infections.

Some care homes are currently receiving assistance from other organizations. Last week, Bill Blair, the federal Minister of Public Safety tweeted that seven LTC homes in Ottawa will receive assistance from the Red Cross. The request was made by the provincial government. Ford said: “We’re working out the logistics with the federal government. There’s certain long term care homes that need it more than others.”

The Province has not indicated if any homes in Peel will receive such assistance.

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