PSW industry in city is in ‘crisis’
Posted: February 13, 2020
(February 12, 2020)
By: Alan S. Hale, Kingston Whig-Standard
The Kingston Health Coalition and its partners are sounding the alarm about a crisis facing personal support workers as a profession and the dire impacts it is having on residents in local long-term care homes.
“This is a crisis,” Matthew Gventer, health coalition cochair, declared. “We have a high rate of physical and mental harm to workers caused by short staffing, the growing acuity of patients, part-time employment, a lack of appreciation, and low pay.”
The health coalition, family members of people in long-term care and representatives of the unions representing local PSWs held a news conference in Kingston on Tuesday, during which they highlighted the findings of a new report commissioned by the Ontario Health Coalition and Unifor titled “Caring In: Ontario’s Long-Term Care PSW Shortage.”
All of the representatives are asking people to do whatever they can to pressure the government into making much-needed reforms.
One such reform is to almost double the number of PSWs in Ontario. Currently, inside Kingston’s five nursing homes there is one PSW for every eight to 12 residents, depending on the facility.
Lesley Donald saw how shortstaffed local nursing homes were while her husband was receiving long-term care. She argues that the province should put in place a regulation requiring at least one PSW for every six residents. This is already the mandatory standard for teachers at daycare centres, she pointed out, but no similar regulation exists for nursing homes.
“We wouldn’t allow toddlers to be left alone in distress in soiled diapers for hours, yet we see these conditions daily in regulated longterm care homes … and it’s a lot more difficult to assist a six-foot, 200-pound adult than a small child,” Donald said.
“I saw things that should never have happened (while my husband was in long-term care). I watched the dedicated staff try to cope with unsafe and demoralizing conditions. I saw fear in the eyes of young PSWs left to care for far too many residents. I watched staff come to work sick and work double shifts because there was no one to replace them.”
All of the representatives in Kingston were quick to point out that they do not blame PSWs or the facilities for the problems. The culprit, they said, has been a lack of emphasis on long-term care by successive governments and apathy by people who don’t realize just how much they will need functioning nursing homes as they and their families age.
Hiring thousands more PSWs will not be an easy task, either. According to the report and the groups in Kingston, poor working conditions and low pay are either driving away younger PSWs into other fields or discouraging many students from entering the field in the first place.
“The crisis is going to get a lot worse,” warned Dean McLaren of United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents many PSWs in Kingston.
“With very few people taking the (PSW training) course to strengthen the field down the road, the crisis will get a lot worse as people leave, and there is no one to replace them.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Long Term Care responded to the news conference in Kingston by saying that the government is aware of the challenges surrounding staffing, recruitment and retention of PSWs and other front-line staff.
“Our government has been clear that we need to address issues surrounding staffing in the long-term care sector; that’s why Minister Merrileec Fullerton is currently developing a comprehensive longterm care staffing strategy with a commitment to implement by the end of 2020,” Rebecca Bozzato of the minister’s office said.
“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.”