Staff in the province’s long-term care homes are feeling overwhelmed as COVID-19 outbreaks spread rapidly, Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) Executive Director Natalie Mehra says
The long-term care sector went into the coronavirus pandemic already understaffed, she said.
“We’re hearing from staff who are crying in their cars, they’re phoning late at night just talking about how completely overwhelmed they are,” Mehra said Tuesday.
“In order to isolate the residents they have to feed them in their rooms … And now increasingly the staff are also getting sick.”
She also expressed concern that some residents were not being sent to hospital or put on ventilators.
“They may be elderly, but they have the right to care like others,” she said.
While the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, where at least 12 residents have died and 24 staff tested positive for the respiratory disease, has attracted provincial attention, there are other institutions where residents and staff are confirmed cases or undergoing testing, she said.
OHC, in a report commissioned by Unifor and released in early February, warned of significant shortages of personal support workers (PSWs) in long-term care settings.
Mehra said the minimum wage increase to $14, without a corresponding hike in PSW wages, meant many left the field to earn comparable wages without an overwhelming workload.
“In order to deal with this they are going to need to increase the wages,” she said.
“They’re going into places that are very high risk for the spread of COVID-19 whose residents are extremely frail and very vulnerable to this.”
The OHC has been able to track down information on 58 of the 91 health care workers that Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams announced had tested positive for COVID-19 by March 28, she said.
Those numbers reveal cases at long-term care homes in Almonte, Bobcaygeon, Hagersville, Stoney Creek, the London area, Markham, Oshawa, Ottawa, Peterborough, Renfrew Country, Sarnia, St. Catharines and Scarborough, as well as a number of hospitals.
As the tragic news filtered out of Bobcaygeon, the Doug Ford government announced new measures to help long-term care homes, including staffing requirement changes that will allow non-clinical employees to take over some duties such as companionship.
In an open letter in response to that announcement, multiple organizations including the Ontario Long Term Care Association expressed strong support for the government’s emergency order.
“The care and protection of long-term care residents — and the dedicated staff who look after them — has become a critical issue in Ontario,” the letter said.
“As of March 30, 14 of Ontario’s long-term care homes have confirmed outbreaks of COVID-19, and the numbers are increasing rapidly.”