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‘Ludicrously low’: Ontario PSW announcement shocks advocacy group

Posted: February 24, 2021

(February 23, 2021)

By: Derek Dunn, Inside Ottawa Valley (Metroland Media Group)

PSWs in Ontario

A group representing hundreds of health-care groups is shocked by the Ontario government’s announcement that it would help create only 373 new personal support workers (PSWs).

“I am furious and gobsmacked,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “I mean, anything’s better than nothing. But this is so far from what we need that it’s shocking they would even announce that.”

The jobs are for Lanark and Renfrew, North Bay, Hamilton, Ottawa, the Greater Toronto Area, Kitchener, London and Burlington, representing half the population of the province. But the figure cited by Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton this morning, during a telephone news conference, wouldn’t cover a town or even the number who have quit from exhaustion since the pandemic began, Mehra told Metroland.

Ontario needs about 15,000 more PSWs for the province’s 627 long-term care homes, she said. Quebec hired 10,000 more by last fall. According to the coalition’s recent report every shift, with four to six staff, is currently short one to two.

“It’s about half,” Mehra said. “That (announcement) will do nothing. That’s ludicrously low.”

During the announcement, the Ford government committed to a $4.1 million increase in funding to help train the new PSWs.

“Personal Support Workers are the backbone of long-term care and do important work to ensure that our loved ones receive the quality of care they need and deserve,” Fullerton said. “Modernizing long-term care means making it a better place for residents to live, and a better place for staff to work, which we will achieve through co-ordinated partnerships and programs across government.”

Mehra said she has heard from countless PSWs who plan to quit when the pandemic subsides. Consider that, along with the PC government’s plan to expand capacity to accommodate the aging population, and the need is closer to 37,000.

“No. That is not even a drop in the bucket,” Merha said, reading over a related press release.

When asked about the 373-versus-15,000 gap, Fullerton said the government is working toward four hours of direct care per patient. In five years, 15,000 new spaces will be created in long-term care homes. In 10 years, it will be 30,000 spaces.

“That would make Ontario a leader in Canada,” she said. Last December, the province committed to hiring 27,000 front-line staff, including PSWs and nurses before 2025.

Metroland Media contacted the Ministry of Long-Term Care to ask if more PSW jobs will be created in future. Spokesperson Rob McMahon replied by email.

“The government has launched the largest recruitment and training drive in Ontario’s history. To implement our staffing plan, we are making additional annual investments, culminating in $1.9 billion annually to create more than 27,000 new positions for Personal Support Workers, Registered Nurses, and Registered Practical Nurses,” McMahon wrote. “To support long-term care homes during the global pandemic, we have been taking action to address urgent staff shortages. We have put in place a Personal Support Worker Return of Service program and are fast tracking Personal Support Worker education and providing supports for new nursing graduates. Our new Ontario Workforce Reserve for Senior Support program is also recruiting Resident Support Aides.”

To stem the flow of PSWs leaving the industry, the government gave a temporary $2- to $3-an-hour increase that started last October and ends March 31. But advocates say that with a starting salary of about $18 per hour — which rises to about $25 per hour after 20 years — it’s difficult for the female-dominated workers to stay for reasons other than compassion toward seniors.

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