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Severe PSW shortage on agenda at health care Town Hall

Posted: March 19, 2019

March 19, 2019

The growing shortage of personal support workers and their difficult working conditions will be discussed at a Town Hall meeting Saturday, officials say.

“The word is out. People are leaving the profession of PSW and they’re not enrolling in PSW courses at community colleges,” said Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Sarnia-Lambton Health Coalition.

“I’ve had over 40 people call me who want to attend this.”

The Town Hall is part of a provincial campaign organized by the Ontario Health Coalition in response to the Ford government’s omnibus health care legislation.

The plan, announced last month, calls for 14 local health integration networks to merge with six provincial health-care agencies in one super-agency called Ontario Health.

Health-care providers would propose and develop some 30 to 50 localized health teams, each caring for about 300,000 people, Health Minister Christine Elliot has said.

Roebuck fears the government wants to put more long-term care in the hands of private operators, which would not improve the job conditions of PSWs or the people they care for, she said.

“Anybody that runs a business is looking to make a profit, otherwise why would they be in business?” she asked. “The way profits are usually made in long-term care is to keep a tight lid on the number of staff you employ.”

But Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey said Ontario Health will make the province’s $60-billion system more efficient and reduce unnecessary and costly administration.

And local teams will be better at connecting people with the service they need, Bailey said.

“The money that currently goes to administrative – and there’s lots of it – will be refocused on the people that need the care, like on front-line services,” he said, citing PSWs as an area needing attention.

As The Journal reported recently, Sarnia-Lambton is experiencing a shortage of PSWs so severe it’s impacting the ability of health-care agencies to deliver services.
Since January of 2018, Lambton’s three publicly operated long-term care homes have lost 57 PSWs through resignation and retirement, as well as nine registered nurses and 17 registered practical nurses, according to a recent report.

At a health-care job fair in Sarnia last month, the handful of job seekers who showed up were exceeded by the number of agencies accepting resumes.

Current and former personal support workers say the job is underpaid and under supported. And when shifts go unfilled, the strain on those left to provide an acceptable standard of care can be unbearable, they said.

Roebuck said employers in Chatham-Kent have even begun offering to pay the college tuition of a would-be PSW on the condition he or she commits to working for one year.

Some say homes and hospitals need to offer more full-time work and fixed schedules. But Roebuck said the only real solution is more funding.

The Coalition is pushing for increased staffing at long-term care facilities and recommends a minimum of four hours of daily care per resident.

“Until the system is fixed, I don’t think you’re going to be able to provide the care that our elderly needs,” Roebuck said.

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