By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Chatham-Kent’s long-term care (LTC) facilities may have had no COVID-19 outbreaks, but that doesn’t make them immune from the same working conditions faced by workers across the province.
Workers can’t get days off. Staff are working overtime to help out their fellow coworkers. Work-related injuries are at an all time high, according to Nicole Grainger, president of Unifor Local 127.
“There’s not even enough bodies to fill the staffing needs, let alone giving out vacations.”
On Thursday afternoon, cars drove around the block of Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls, honking to show their support of personal support workers (PSWs) and to make sure their voices were heard.
Chatham-Kent has not had any long-term care outbreaks, however, more than 1,900 Ontario LTC residents and staff have died of COVID-19 elsewhere in the province, according to the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC).
“All over Ontario, the OHC and its chapters are holding days of action to make everyone aware that despite the provincial government’s announcement of significant funding they haven’t done anything to increase the number of PSW’s available for work,” said Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent and Sarnia chapters.
Earlier in the month the Ford government announced a temporary $3-an-hour pay increase for personal support workers, in an effort, while hospital PSWs will see a $2 an hour pay hike.
“This investment will help the province attract and retain the workforce needed to care for patients, clients and residents in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” provincial officials said in a release.
The total investment cost $461 million and will affect more than 147,000 workers who deliver publicly funded personal support services.
Grainger pointed out that the LTC home wages and staffing crisis is happening at all levels and not just with the PSWs.
“All of these (LTC) workers dedicated their working lives to enhancing the lives of the most vulnerable of our communities across the province and the country,” said Grainger, speaking on behalf of PSWs, dietary workers, housekeeping, maintenance, registered social workers.
“At the time when these workers are pulling together as a team, it was a divisive move on the part of the Premier Ford government to throw a raise at only one part of the team, PSWs. It was a slap in the face to the rest.”
Roebuck said although the PSWs are pleased to see the pay increase, more needs to be done. The call to action included better staffing ratios for workers per LTC residents, better recruitment and training for staff, as well as more full time work opportunities.
Roebuck is worried that Chatham-Kent’s luck could run out soon and a COVID outbreak could occur without proper staffing support.