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Need for PSWs, long-term care home workers immediate – OHC

Posted: October 10, 2020

(October 9, 2020)

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Ontario needs to hire between 10,000 and 15,000 workers in long-term care homes “right now,” according to Liberal health critic John Fraser.

Speaking in a Zoom news conference Thursday, Fraser said in one extreme case from Ottawa, a longterm care worker is looking after 30 senior patients with COVID-19.

And the problem, he said, is only getting worse, as more personal support workers (PSWs) and other employees at long-term care homes leave their positions for better pay and working conditions in other fields.

Fraser was one of several speakers at the news conference held by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) on a day of action urging the Doug Ford government to “take immediate action to address (the) staffing crisis” in long-term care homes.

Another speaker was MPP John Vanthof (NDP – Temiskaming-Cochrane) who admitted he “job shadowed” a PSW last November, before the pandemic struck.

“It was impossible to do the work that needed to be done,” he said.

He also said his wife, who works as a waitress, works with a number of former PSWs who left their positions because the money and the working conditions were better in a restaurant.

While a motorcade encircled Queen’s Park in Toronto and protests were held at 24 other locations across the province, including Sudbury, OHC executive director Natalie Mehra said the coalition “has been waiting all summer” for the province to react.

Six months ago, she noted, British Columbia took steps to hire thousands of workers for long-term care homes in that province, while Quebec announced four months ago it would hire 10,000 workers.

“In Ontario, the staffing crisis is worse,” she said. “It’s beyond words.”

The fact one Ottawa long-term care home has a single PSW working with 30 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 is “just unspeakable.”

“There is inadequate staffing, no intervention early enough … and residents are wandering in and out of the rooms” of residents with COVID-19, she said.

“At this point we would have expected to see immediate intervention, improved staffing,” sufficient personal protective equipment for all staff, proper isolation and testing procedures in place, Mehra said, but that is not the case.

“We are calling on Ford to get his act together, get a plan in place and get staffing to safer levels.”

“It’s really appalling,” Dr. Amit Arya agreed.

He says 95 per cent of staff in an OHC survey reported staff shortages across the province, and “the province has done nothing to date to address these staffing shortages.”

Worse, he said, is that many of the homes have had multiple complaints filed with the province over the years, but the province scaled back inspections after the Ford government took power.

And while staff are working double shifts, privately owned longterm care homes have continued to pay out dividends to shareholders throughout the crisis, he said.

“We need the government to act now,” Arya said, calling for increased surprise inspections of homes, with the results of those inspections being made public.

Early in the pandemic, when military personnel were sent to a number of long-term care homes, they reported numerous shortcomings of the facilities.

But the province, Arya said, didn’t learn from that experience.

At this time, 50 long-term care homes across the province are reporting outbreaks, Mehra noted, and “40 or so” retirement homes are in the same situation.

But the province, she said, has still not come up with a plan.

“It’s hard to understand how we find ourselves where we are,” Fraser said. “We are so unprepared” for the growing second wave of COVID-19.

“We didn’t learn from our mistakes at the beginning.”

More than 1,900 residents and staff in long-term care have died of COVID-19, but participants in the news conference said the province has only offered “piecemeal” solutions and not a full plan to deal with the situation.

Adding the needed staff, Jane Meadus of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly said, is something that should have been done long ago.

“They missed the boat by not getting people trained over the summer,” she said, or even earlier when people were being laid off from their jobs or students were no longer able to attend classes.

And while almost 2,000 people have died in long-term care homes, she said, the province continues to put many times more funding into hospitals than into long-term care.

There are 626 long-term care homes in the province, so even a recently announced increase of 2,000 PSWs “will only mean three per home, and that’s once they graduate,” Fraser said. – PJ Wilson writes for The Nugget in North Bay.

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