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Staff shortages heighten concern if COVID outbreak hits C-K long-term care homes

Posted: October 9, 2020

(October 8, 2020)

By: Ellwood Shreve, Chatham Daily News

Chatham-Kent has, so far, avoided a COVID-19 outbreak at any of its long-term care homes but, due to staff shortages and burnout, a health-care advocate and union official fear the result if it does happen.

“Although there have not been any COVID-19 outbreaks, the bad conditions are still there,” said Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent, Wallaceburg, Walpole First Nation and Sarnia chapters of the Ontario Health Coalition during a protest Thursday at the Chatham constituency office of Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls.

“It’s very scary” said Unifor Local 127 president Nicole Grainger of the thought of an outbreak happening locally because long-term care facilities are already short-staffed.

The local health coalition chapters were part of a provincial day of action that occurred in several communities across Ontario to call on the provincial government to take immediate action to address a staffing crisis and improve staffing ratios to implement a minimum of four hours care for long-term care residents, as well as end for-profit facilities.

Roebuck said the day of action is to “make everyone aware that, despite the provincial government’s announcement of significant funding, they haven’t done anything to increase the number of (personal support workers) available for work.”

She said the health coalition is pleased wages have increased but noted residents will still suffer if there isn’t enough people to provide care.

“COVID-19 exposed the conditions in long-term care, but they have been there for years,” Roebuck said.

The Ontario Health Coalition says more than 1,900 Ontario residents and staff have died of COVID-19 in long-term care.

Grainger said workers in all departments in car homes are routinely working short-staffed, especially personal support workers.

“There’s not even enough bodies to fill the staffing needs, let along giving out vacations,” she said.

Staff are only getting time off unless they are on a medical leave, she added.

The long-term care industry has expressed a desire to hire more personal support workers, but there is little interest among the workforce to do this type of work.

Grainger believes this is due to publicity surrounding the poor pay and working conditions.

Roebuck said employers need to start offering full-time positions with suitable benefits.

It can take several years of working part time before someone can get a full-time job in the long-term care industry, she said.

Grainger said she’s finally secured a full time position after working 15 years in the industry.

“It’s got to change from precarious work,” she said.

A request for comment from MPP Rick Nicholls office was not returned by press time.

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced $243 million in emergency funding for staffing, supplies and capacity, along with another $78.2 million to preserve front-line staff and maintain current levels of service provided for resident care and accommodation.

Grainger said employers need to be more innovative, citing her employer, Riverview Gardens, has a program where it covers the schooling for someone willing to become a personal support worker, as well as pays them to go to school.

She noted 11 people are currently in that program.

Judy Wolanski, a retired nurse who took part in the local protest that saw several vehicles drive around Nicholls’ constituency office, is worried about her step-father, who is in long-term care.

She told reporters she’s often seen staff work while injured because they refuse to add to the workload of their colleagues.

“They really care about each other,” Wolanski said.

The delays involved in requiring a COVID test in order to visit a care facility means Wolanski can only see her step-dad every one or two weeks.

She’s seen a difference in him.

“He’s not as focused when you talk to him. He lacks that stimulation,” Wolanski said. “I’m worried the homes will lock down again in the coming second wave and how this will impact residents, staff and family members.”

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