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Health Coalition puts spotlight on PSW crisis

Posted: February 13, 2020

(February 12, 2020)

By: Chris Abbott, The Kingston Whig Standard

Melissa Holden, member of the Oxford Coalition for Social Justice, presented a new report discussing the shortage of personal support workers (PSWs) in long-term care at a press conference in Tillsonburg Tuesday. (Kathleen Saylors/Postmedia Network) JPG, TN

Oxford County advocates, families, and representatives of front-line workers in long-term care came together Tuesday morning in Tillsonburg to ‘raise the alarm.’

“The situation in Oxford County is critical,” said Melissa Holden, co-chair of the Oxford County Health Coalition in a media release. “Staffing shortages are threatening the safety and care of residents and harming staff too. The crisis cannot be solved locally alone. This means that action needs to be taken by our provincial government to solve this problem.

“We are calling for increased funding directed to improve PSW staffing levels, wages and working conditions, for a minimum care standard, for support for violent and aggressive residents’ care, for free tuition or grants, and other measures. These are practical solutions that can be implemented right away by the Ford government.”

A just-released report on critical staffing shortages in long-term care, Caring in Crisis: Ontario’s Long-Term Care PSW Shortage, written by the Ontario Health Coalition and commissioned by Unifor, examines the Personal Support Worker (PSW) crisis in Ontario’s long-term care homes. PSWs are on the front lines, providing much of the daily hands-on care for approximately 80,000 long-term care residents in Ontario.

Long-term care homes reported that they are working with shortages on almost all shifts, every day. The shortages mean that there are not enough PSWs to staff existing beds let alone the planned new beds that are urgently needed to address long wait lists.

The report is based on input and feedback from round table meetings held across Ontario attended by home operators and administrators, PSWs, union representatives, family councils, seniors, college staff who develop/coordinate PSW courses, local health coalitions and other long-term care advocates. The report includes first-hand accounts of how the crisis is impacting local communities and their long- term care homes, and recommendations to restore stability to the vital long-term care workforce.

“The findings were that PSWs are experiencing extraordinary amounts of burnout,” said Holden. “We are not retaining long-term workers anymore. I have been a PSW for more than 30 years – that is just not happening anymore.”

“In Oxford County and the surrounding regions our long-term care homes are working short-staffed in virtually every home, every day, every shift,” said Brent Thompson, President of Unifor Local 636 in the media release. “Our Personal Support Workers are passionate about their jobs and want to do everything they can to help our seniors in long-term care but they are forced out of the sector because wages have remained too low for too long and working conditions are becoming increasingly difficult. Our workers are literally getting injured on the job because they don’t have the support they need, and so they are often left without any other choice but to find a different job.”

“My loved ones are my everything,” said Caroline Ford, a PSW in the Oxford County area. “I think we can all say that. Who are our loved ones? Parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, aunts, uncles and children. We all want the best for them. This includes PSW care in long-term care homes. We want this for them. They need it and deserve it. We need to stand together and help change the PSW crisis. Today it is your loved ones we are caring for. Tomorrow, it could be you.

“I have seen both ends of… the situation,” said Ford. “The long-term care home did the best with what they were given. As a PSW, we can certainly do more better with more time and education, but there needs to be improvement.”

Residents aren’t getting enough care, Ford suggested, because of overall staffing shortages and the accompanying stress. More are leaving the profession, and are at risk of injury and burnout, she added.

Barry Harper, whose wife has been in long-term care for three years, spoke about his experiences and how staffing shortages impacted his wife’s care.

“I am very thankful for the job PSWs did for my wife,” said Harper. “It’s a hard and thankless job. It is very difficult for PSWs to work in an environment where things suddenly happen.”

Harper recounted a telephone call from his wife’s care home telling him she had gone missing.

“Now they have a situation where they have to call the police to help find my wife,” he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said the province is currently developing a long-term care staffing strategy that will be implemented by the end of this year.

“Recognizing that a motivated workforce is critical to a sustainable long-term care system, we are working to improve working conditions to promote recruitment and retention in order to meet current and future staffing needs,” spokesperson Rebecca Bozzato said via email.

Holden urged Ontarians to lobby their MPPs to support private member’s Bill 13, the Time to Care bill, which is set to be reintroduced later this year by London MPP Teresa Armstrong. That bill mandates that long-term care homes provide residents with at least four hours per day of nursing and personal support services.

“I am hoping… people reach out to their MPPs and ask them to support the Time to Care Bill 13,” she said. “We’re asking they put pressure on local MPPs to support that bill.”

– with files from Kathleen Saylors

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