Recruiting PSWs difficult for nursing homes in Espanola, Sudbury
Posted: February 25, 2020
(February 20, 2020)
By: Colleen Romaniuk, The Sudbury Star
Being a personal support worker (PSW) is a tough job.
David Adamczak, the assistant director of care at Espanola Nursing Home, can understand why burnout is so common.
The province of Ontario has seen a shortage of PSWs in long-term care facilities for several years now.
Chronic understaffing in many long-term care homes across the province forces workers to sacrifice quality. As a result, many of them must cope with injury and frustration, while residents are being deprived of the care they need.
A report recently released by the Ontario Health Coalition suggests that many care homes report staff shortages on almost all shifts, every single day.
The report titled Caring in Crisis: Ontario’s Long-Term PSW Shortage was released in Sudbury on Thursday. Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, commissioned the report in the summer of 2018.
The release was part of a cross-province tour that brought the Ontario Health Coalition to cities like Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Kingston.
Put together after a series of eight different roundtable discussions with industry stakeholders, the document provides nine recommendations meant to help alleviate the PSW crisis in long-term care facilities and local communities.
Some of the recommendations include improving wages and working conditions for PSWs, developing a provincial human resource recruitment and retention plan, and reducing tuition costs for students.
The biggest takeaway, however, one that was echoed by many participants both in the roundtable discussions and at the release of the report, is that PSWs need more time with their patients.
“The number one thing that needs to be done is the government needs to fund an enforceable, measurable standard of care of four hours per resident per day,” said Unifor rep Andy Savela.
“That would provide a manageable patient-to-staff ratio, would allow staff to provide care that they know their residents need, and make a better living and working condition for everybody in the long-term care facility.”
In an email statement, a spokesperson for Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of Long-Term Care, said the provincial government is taking steps to address the concerns,
“Last week, Minister Fullerton announced the completion of 18 recommendations in response to the key recommendations in the Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long-Term Care Homes System,” wrote Rebecca Bozzato, the minister’s press secretary and senior communications adviser. “This includes the launch of a staffing study, which will inform a comprehensive staffing strategy that we will be implementing by the end of 2020. One component of the staffing study will determine adequate levels of staff in long-term care, specifically addressing a key recommendation in the Public Inquiry.
“Additionally, the study will identify an optimal staffing model and skill mix to support current and future long-term care needs, with a focus on improving recruitment and retention of personal support workers and registered staff. The study will be led by an expert advisory group, who will meet with leaders from across the long-term care sector, including representatives of major stakeholder groups, care staff professional associations, residents, and families.
“A motivated workforce is critical to a sustainable long-term care system. Our government is committed to working with our sector partners to improve opportunities for personal support workers and registered staff. Together, we are building a 21st century system that is well-resourced, centered on residents, and ready to welcome our most vulnerable when and where they need it.”
Meanwhile, the Espanola Nursing Home, a facility with 62 beds, is feeling the PSW shortage, but not necessarily in terms of a shortage in staff.
“We have a pretty good staff pool here,” he said.
“The people we have are wonderful, and we don’t usually run into issues unless there are a lot of people who call in sick or go on leave at the same time.”
The main challenge they face, as a community of about 5,000 people, is recruitment.
“We don’t get a lot of responses when we post an ad for a PSW opening. We’re a smaller community, and so our main challenge is finding qualified people.”
Not many people located in bigger cities, like Sudbury, want to commute about an hour to work every day.
The health colation’s report suggests that tuition costs, negative media reports, and a lack of promotion for PSW courses might be leading to low enrolment in programs across the province.
In addition, many newly trained PSWs choose not to stick around.
The report claims that “recruits are unprepared for the workload and stresses of the job.”
Adamczak said that this is understandable.
If new recruits are walking into understaffed environments, it might be difficult to retain PSWs. While he hasn’t experienced it personally, he has heard some horror stories from facilities in other areas.
Possible solutions to these issues include provincial standards for courses, which ensure that students are prepared for a real work environment and a provincial recruitment plan to help rural communities attract more workers.
PSWs provide a valuable service to those facing illness or a limited capacity to care for themselves.
At the release of the report in Sudbury, attendees made one thing clear: PSWs want more time with their patients over more money.
They want to be able to provide the kind of care their patients need.
The Ontario Health Coalition is an organization that represents more than half-a-million Ontarians in 400 member organizations and a network of Local Health Coalitions and individual members.