‘Stingy’ Ontario fuels PSW shortage: forum
Posted: June 6, 2019
(June 6, 2019)
By: Mary Katherine Keown, The Sudbury Star
We are in a health care crisis, union officials in Sudbury say.
Unifor and the Ontario Health Coalition held a roundtable Thursday at which they said the province of Ontario is facing a critical shortage of personal support workers.
Melissa Wood, co-chair of the Ontario Health Coalition in Sudbury, said PSWs working in long-term care homes are leaving the field and schools are having trouble recruiting students.
“They’re going to work at other jobs that are actually less money, but they’re looking to get out of the field due to burn-out and stress levels,” Wood said. “We’re finding a decline in people who want to work in the long-term care sector. A lot of people who are graduating are going into the home care field and a lot of them are getting out of institutions and the line of work of long-term care.”
There are fewer and fewer people choosing to study in PSW programs, Wood said. It is not a “sexy job, for the most part” and the wages are relatively low.
“You’re taking care of the elderly from top to bottom, and when there’s only one or two of you for 32 people, it gets tiring. In long-term care, there are currently no standards in how much staffing levels you can have in a facility.”
Ideally, Wood said in Sudbury there would be one nurse and three or four PSWs per 32-bed unit if there are staff members available to work. The problem these days is that weeks go by when there are just one or two PSWs per unit, due to burn-out and illness.
Hugh Armstrong, a professor emeritus of social work and political economy who retired from Carleton University six years ago, said he is now focused on trying to make residential care better. He said because of the way the system is currently organized, the wealthiest residents get the care they need, while most others suffer.
“Ontario is stingy,” he said. “The Ontario government – going back 30 or 40 years – pays less and provides fewer resources to long-term care, and indeed more generally to health care, than any other province, by most measures. And indeed, any other OECD (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country by most measures.”
Armstrong said the province must invest more in long-term care, even if that means additional taxes.
“What we have is a crisis for sure, but it’s a manufactured crisis by a number of governments,” he said.
As a result, privatization is becoming more common. Armstrong said there is never enough care, so those who can afford it hire their own workers.
“This means the rich get the care they need while everybody else gets less than what they need,” he said.
Wait times have been impacted as a result of a province-wide bed shortage and Armstrong said now there is a waitlist of more than 30,000 people.
Wood said to recruit a sufficient number of PSWs to long-term care homes, there needs to be a “good working culture.” She said when she embarked on her career, it was fun to work in long-term care. It was steady work with a steady schedule and some weekends off, and “the culture itself was very inviting, very inclusive and very transparent.” But over the years, that culture has eroded.
Jason Harasymchuk, a registered practical nurse and president of CUPE Local 1182, said at the long-term care home where he works, they are chronically short-staffed.
The work is admittedly difficult. Harasymchuk told the group assembled Thursday the work can be spiritually and physically draining. But if there were more PSWs per unit there would be an easier time for everyone. Harasymchuk also said if PSWs were paid more, it would likely be easier to recruit people into the field. On average, he said people who work in long-term care homes receive a salary of $18 to $27 per hour. The problem is funding, or lack thereof.
“We need more funding,” he said. “If we were to actually get Bill 13 passed, which is the Time to Care Act, to get a legislated four hours of hands-on care per day, it would definitely help a lot with the workload and help with the fact PSWs are burning out because they’re trying to get the work of three people done.”
It is non-stop and Harasymchuk said often PSWs work through their breaks and lunches. He said, on average, they only have six minutes per person to dress, toilet and prepare patients for the day.
The roundtable was aimed, in part, at identifying the core issues causing the shortage and looking for solutions.
Andy Savela, director of health care for Unifor, said lack of adequate compensation is a common complaint, especially when compared to the workload and expectations placed on the shoulders of PSWs. Injuries amongst workers are also increasingly common.
“The most important thing I can identify that would be the best way to deal with it and to get things moving in the right direction is if there were a patient-to-staff ratio that was manageable,” Savela said. “Right now we have PSWs caring for up to 12 residents per day.”
Although he knows it would take time to see results, Savela said he believes adjusting the ratio to about 1:8 would encourage more people to consider becoming a PSW. He said ideally, each patient would receive four hours of care per 24-hour cycle.
“Daily, if you talk with the people in those facilities, they’re short-staffed; people are running around with a finger jammed in the dike type of mentality,” Savela said. “Unfortunately, what that means is seniors – the ones who built our communities and this country – are suffering. That’s the reality – seniors are suffering in long-term care facilities today because the resources aren’t there to provide the care.”