Crisis in care?


Our seniors deserve better: Ontario Health Coalition

The province needs to do more to assist our elderly, according to the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC).

The OHC held a press conference recently in Chatham to showcase its Caring in Crisis report.

Shirley Roebuck, co-chair of the Chatham-Kent Health Coalition said the OHC has lobbied provincial governments for quite some time on improving staff-to-patient ratios in seniors’ homes.

“The OHC has been advocating for over 20 years for better staffing in long-term care homes. In the last year and a half, we started hearing about severe staffing problems and complaints about bad working conditions involving Personal Support Workers (PSWs),” she said. “Those complaints are coming from all over the province.”

In response, the OHC put together a series of round-table discussions for PSWs and long-term care managers, Roebuck said, including one in Chatham this past fall.

“We were taken back by the frustration by PSWs and by local managers. PSWs are leaving the profession in droves. Other people are not signing up to be PSWs,” she said. “The word is out about the extremely heavy workload and no opportunity for full-time employment. It’s always part timers.”

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Long-Term Care, said the government is working to fix the problem.

“Staffing plays a crucial role in ensuring that the needs of all long-term care residents are being met, and our government understands that there are real challenges when it comes to recruiting and retaining PSWs and other front-line staff,” she said.

Ministry officials said Fullerton is developing a comprehensive long-term care staffing strategy with commitment to implement by the end of 2020.

The province has also organized free PSW courses around the province, including in Chatham under the guidance of the Erie-St. Clair Local Health Integration Network.

Five local organizations and the municipality offered the training, which was to begin Feb. 10.

Roebuck said it isn’t enough.

“The LHIN system, along with some employers and municipalities, are funding a new class for PSWs. It’s great that these people are going to be paid to take the course and their education will be free, but I’m just wondering what happens at the end of that. Do they go into a bad work environment? How long will they (the province) be able to retain these people,” she said.

Andy Savela, director of health care for Unifor, agreed.

“The issue isn’t lack of training opportunities for the PSW program. People entering the workforce are steering clear of this as a career as they know that the workload is unmanageable due to the high resident-to-staff ratio. The expectations are well beyond reasonable,” he said.

The province has pledged to open more long-term care beds across the Ontario, and Roebuck said it is an empty promise.

“Why open more beds you can’t staff? They can open 15,000 beds, but if there’s nobody to take care of the patients, it doesn’t count,” she said.

Since the creation of a dedicated ministry for long-term care in June, ministry officials said Fullerton has collaborated with sector partners to understand the unique challenges that the long-term care system faces with staffing and how to address those challenges.

“Recognizing that a motivated workforce is critical to a sustainable long-term care system, we are working to improve working conditions to promote recruitment and retention in order to meet current and future staffing needs,” Fullerton said. “We are committed to working with our sector partners build a 21st century system that is well-resourced, resident-centered, and ready to welcome our most vulnerable when and where they need it.”

Roebuck said the OHC urges MPPs to take the message back to Queen’s Park to improve funding for long-term care and direct more money towards front-line workers. That includes the improvement of the patient-to-PSW ratio.

“The stories that came out during our roundtables would horrify a normal person. There is no time for baths, no time for toileting. People are being left in soaked adult diapers,” she said. “This is not the way we envision treating our elderly.

OHC recommendations include:
• Provide enhanced funding to improve wages and working conditions for PSWs.

  • Levels of care in Ontario’s long-term care homes must be improved and this improvement must be mandatory and enforceable.
  • A provincial human resource recruitment and retention plan must be developed with clear, publicly reported timelines and targets, and accountability for meeting these targets in order to implement the minimum care standard.
  • Long-term care homes must be resourced with trained staff able to deal with the increasing responsive behaviours in the homes.
  • Provincial standards for PSW courses must be set to ensure that students are prepared for the real work environment.
  • Tuition costs must be reduced substantially: access to grants, daycare, and other subsidies to support students must be provided.
  • Staffing shortages must be reported to the Ministry of Health and posted in each home.
  • A publicity campaign to share a positive image of personal support work must be developed to increase retention and attract students to the sector.
  • Capacity in our public hospitals must be restored including psychogeriatric and complex continuing care beds.
  • Best practices in scheduling that are flexible and responsive to the needs of the PSW workforce must be identified and shared in consultation with PSWs and their unions.



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