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Shortage of PSWs in long-term care in London, Ont. ‘very serious’: OHC report

Posted: February 6, 2020

(February 5, 2020)

By Jacquelyn LeBel, Global News

From left to right: Unifor Local 302 Vice President Lisa Tucker, Unifor National Healthcare Council President Jim Kennedy, Director of Health Care Unifor Andy Savela, Ontario Health Coalition Co-Chair Peter Bergmanis and Personal Support Worker Shoshannah Bourgeois.

The Ontario Health Coalition’s cross-province tour highlighting the findings of its Caring in Crisis report arrived in London, Ont. on Wednesday.

The report, commissioned by Unifor, focuses on the shortage of personal support workers (PSWs) in Ontario and was based on input from a series of roundtable events held last year, including one in London in late February.

According to the report, one rural care home in the London region was only fully staffed for eight days in an entire year. Retaining workers was also highlighted as a key issue, with one area home reportedly hiring 44 PSWs in Sept. 2017 and having only seven remaining by Jan. 2018.

When exploring possible reasons for the shortage of PSWs in long-term care homes, local participants highlighted inadequate pay, workplace violence, increased workload due to lack of staffing, and media attention to the challenges of PSWs, among other potential factors.

“There’s an amount of money we need to be able to make to be able to live,” said Shoshannah Bourgeois, a PSW with a background in homecare, during Wednesday’s news conference in London.

“When you can’t afford to run your car, you can’t afford child care, how can you afford to do that job? So you’re working two or three jobs without a day off, without vacation, you’re not even taking vacation because you can’t afford it.”

Speaking at the news conference at Unifor Local 302 on Elm Street, coalition co-chair Peter Bergmanis noted that an added pressure is decreasing enrollment in PSW courses.

“Fanshawe [College] is like a pioneer in PSW course training and had a well established program here, but as of the time of this report coming out, they were discovering that people were not willingly enrolling,” he explained.

“Their enrollment levels have fallen to the point where they couldn’t put on the course.”

The Ontario Health Coalition’s report also included a number of recommendations to address the PSW shortage, including: increasing funding to improve PSW staffing levels, wages, and working conditions; tuition reductions and grants for PSW college programs; mandatory reporting of staffing shortages; and a publicity campaign to share a positive image of personal support work to increase retention and attract students to the sector.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, minister of long-term care, said she is aware of this issue.

“I acknowledge that, my government acknowledges that, and our ministry is working very hard to create a staffing strategy that would be comprehensive to address this issue,” she said during an appearance on The Craig Needles Show on Wednesday morning.

“When I first was elected back in 2018, this is one of the things that I heard loudly and clearly — the concern around the shortages and the difficulty with staffing in some of the long-term care homes.”

Public concern over staffing, management, and procedures surrounding long-term care homes rose in the wake of the Elizabeth Wettlaufer case.

The former nurse was sentenced in a Woodstock court in June 2017 to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years after she pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder, and two counts of aggravated assault.

In July 2019, an inquiry concluded that she would not have been caught had she not confessed. The final report blamed systemic vulnerabilities rather than any individual or organizational misconduct.

Among the recommendations was increasing staffing in long-term care homes, establishing a provincial grant to provide long-term care homes with funding to go towards necessary infrastructure changes, and improving the skills of existing workers.

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