THUNDER BAY - For years health coalitions, unions, and personal support workers have been calling on the provincial government to address issues in long-term care, and with the COVID-19 pandemic claiming nearly 2,000 lives, those calls continue to get louder.
“We are here today to join 23 other local coalitions across the province and the Ontario Health Coalition to tell Doug Ford that his response to the deaths of 1,935 residents, nine staff, and two family members is absolutely insufficient,” said Jules Tupker, co-chair of the Thunder Bay Health Coalition. “He’s done absolutely nothing to address the issues in long-term care.”
Rallies were held in cities across the province on Thursday, including Mini-Queen’s Park in Thunder Bay, calling on the Ford government to provide more incentives for PSWs to work in long-term care.
“There’s just not enough staff. The staff are not there,” Tupker said. “They don’t have enough time to do the job they want to do. Staff in long term are passionate and compassionate people, they want to help the people in long-term care, they just don’t have the time. That’s always been a problem.”
Tupker added the provincial government needs to institute a minimum of four hours of care per resident, per day in order to allow the workers to do the job they were hired to do.
“In other words, to create a home for the residents in long-term care and they can’t do that now because there’s just not enough time for them to do that,” he said.
Lina Moore, a personal support worker in Thunder Bay, said she knows the importance of the work PSWs do in long-term care and need of four hours of care at the bedside. She said she comes home every day after a shift exhausted from trying to care for so many residents with not enough time.
“It’s not a very good feeling to go home and I tell my family that I don’t think I did the best job I could have done if I had the tools and if I had the staff,” she said. “It’s an awful feeling. It breaks my heart.”
“We’ve been after the government for over 10 years that this is happening, and now we are in a pandemic and it’s just gotten worse. There is not enough staff on the floor to take care of the residents and their needs every day.”
Long-term care homes in the province were hit particularly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, with the majority of more than 1,900 deaths happening in private, for profit facilities.
“We want Doug Ford to start moving toward making those homes public,” Tupker said.
But the issues affecting long-term care all long-term care homes continues to be staffing shortages, which Tupker said is due in part to a lack of incentives for people to enter and stay in the profession.
The Ford government recently implemented a $3 wage increase for PSWs in long-term care, but Tupker said that is a short-term solution.
“What’s the incentive to go back to school and take a PSW course when I know my wages are not going to $24 an hour, they are going to be $21 an hour and I don’t have enough time to do the job properly. It’s a joke,” he said.
“It’s an incentive for the people who are still there to say please stay, because we can’t afford to lose any more people.”
And with the province seeing surges in COVID-19 cases again, the Health Coalition is worried long-term care homes will once again be vulnerable to outbreaks and more lives will be lost, which is why action needs to be taken now.
“I hope the government can hear us and say, let’s do something,” Moore said. “It’s only going to get worse. What frightens me is COVID, the second wave, we can’t lose any more lives.”