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LEVY: Study says LTC homes have huge staffing issues

Posted: July 23, 2020

(July 22, 2020) 

By: Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun 

A newly released Ontario Health Coalition survey has quantified what many families and advocates have been hearing in the past three months: Namely that long-term care homes have even worse staffing issues than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

OHC executive director Natalie Mehra told a Zoom press conference that among those surveyed, 95% reported they are working short-staffed as often as every day — and 68% said staffing levels are even worse than prior to the start of the virus, the biggest problems being in the for-profit homes.

The staff missing are not just PSWs but RPNs, RNs, housekeeping, dietary and laundry staff, we heard.

“Staffing levels are worse than ever,” said Mehra, noting the staff numbers are so decimated in some homes that they’ve been struggling to provide even basic care.

 “Staff describe the situation as heartbreaking.”

The survey was conducted between July 10 and 17 and was answered by 150 long-term care staff working in 75 different LTC homes around the province.

Some 8,000 LTC residents and staff have been infected by COVID-19 and more than 1,900 have passed away.

In addition, there have been deaths due to dehydration and malnutrition.

Mehra says staff are reporting that they’ve worked without vacations, lieu time or weekends off.

This has taken its toll on patient care, she said, noting that the findings show residents are “regularly going without bathing” or full baths — that they’re lucky to get bed baths.

Emotional support and one-on-one conversations is “almost non-existent,” she said, and residents are “lonely, they miss their families, sad and depressed.”

The survey shows that staff are offering “rushed care” and often don’t have time to provide nail care, applying creams, tooth brushing and shaving.

“Late and rushed care is reported as happening all the time in the homes,” she said, noting that tidying rooms and cleaning bathrooms have also fallen by the wayside due to a severe shortage of housekeeping staff.

Mehra said often soiled linens are not laundered on a timely basis and feeding is rushed — particularly with those with dementia who have to be reminded to keep eating.

“Staff report that there is often not enough time to feed and hydrate residents,” she said.

She says in a “shocking number of homes” there is no rehab being conducted, no entertainment, no time to contact families and not enough staff to provide medications to residents.

“It is all hair-raising,” she said. “It was extremely distressing to us.”

Joadel Concepcion, a registered nurse working in a Markham long-term care home, said she’s very worried about a second wave of COVID-19 with so few staff. Concepcion is at home recovering from COVID-19.

We heard that the wages, benefits and the number of staff resources are a “huge issue” — which the province has yet to address.

Listening to the results of the survey and the severe staff shortages to help with the huge needs of LTC residents, I suggested to Mehra that it is more than time — after four months — to allow essential family caregivers into homes (with the proper precautions, of course) to help pick up the slack.

“It can’t continue … it doesn’t make sense,” she said, emphasizing that residents are declining. “This is not acceptable … it’s unbelievably inhumane not to get in there.”

However, Mehra noted, quite rightly, that there isn’t enough staff to screen essential family caregivers and train them on proper PPE — and staff are “terrified of this coming back.”

I suggested perhaps health ministry, LHIN or CCAC officials be assigned temporarily to homes — just as the Canadian army did — to help out with screening and training.

Mehra agreed that system needs to be set up and “immediately.”

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