Home Care Ontario | Apr 06, 2020
Sue VanderBent was recently interviewed by Allen Benner of the St. Catharines Standard
You can read the article on-line here:
Duty outweighs risk for home health-care workers
Nurses, PSWs expect busy months ahead, while facing greater risk from COVID-19
NEWS 10:34 AM by Allan Benner The St. Catharines Standard
Erin Elizabeth's voice trembled with emotion as she spoke about being separated from her husband and daughter.
"I've never been away from my daughter for a day in her life," she said.
Her husband and daughter plan to stay with relatives, leaving Elizabeth to self-isolate at home while working as a registered practical nurse, caring for some of the most vulnerable patients in the community.
"It was a very hard decision to make, but I think we all have a duty to do the work we chose to do. I'm very passionate about my job and I love being a nurse," she said. "I need to do my part to help patients while we're dealing with this."
“There’s no way we can stop going to people’s homes, home care nurse Erin Elizabeth”
Despite carefully using personal protective equipment (PPE) and following stringent practices to protect herself and others — including her family — the nature of her work puts her at increased risk of catching the virus.
"All of the nurses are struggling with that right now, and we're all doing the best we can to get through it and separate ourselves and isolate ourselves as much as possible," said Elizabeth, who recently launched a CareMongering-Niagara initiative to empower neighbours to help one another during the pandemic.
But despite the risk, the patients she sees in their homes throughout Niagara rely on the care she provides.
Treatments such as dialysis or administering chemotherapy are in many cases keeping patients alive and out of the hospitals.
"It's essential," Elizabeth said.
The province has deemed the work essential, too. Ontario's scaled-down list of essential services released Friday continues to include home-care and personal support service providers, and Elizabeth does not expect that to change.
"There's no way we can stop going to people's homes," she said.
"We're keeping people safe in home instead of in the hospitals and right now we need that more than ever. We're not just providing simple care."
Elizabeth said an average home care nurse can treat up to 15 people in a day, but as hospitals make preparations for the COVID-19 pandemic, she expects the workload will increase significantly as patients who might otherwise be hospitalized instead rely on nurses to provide services in their homes.
Home Care Ontario chief executive officer Sue VanderBent agreed.
"What was home care three weeks ago is going to change drastically in the next three months, because we will be looking after a lot more people and a lot sicker people," said VanderBent, whose organization represents more than 50 home-care service providers across the province.
"We're seeing increasing demands for home care and we are only going to see more demand as our hospitals discharge patients. The hospitals need us to do this job. We are interdependent sectors and we have a big job to do to help hospitals discharge anyone who should not be in the hospital."
VanderBent said new protocols are also being put in place to increase safety.
"Every staff member must have PPE to safely care for patients in their home and protect other family members," she said, adding patients "are expecting us to be in PPE — gowned and gloved."
But the equipment they rely on to protect themselves, their patients and families from the virus is in short supply — which they fear could get worse in the weeks to come.
"We're running out, the same way all the other sectors are," Elizabeth said. "We're doing the best that we can with the limited supplies that we have and protecting ourselves while protecting our patients to the best of our ability."
Despite the increased risks, she said they are also paid less than workers in other sectors of the industry.
VanderBent said personal support workers are at the bottom of the health-care wage scale, too, earning about $19 an hour.
She said Home Care Ontario has advocated for increased funding for workers for years, trying to bolster the numbers of workers. But now, it's critical.
"A critical issue is keeping our staff working in the community," VanderBent said. "Staff are afraid. We need additional funding as well to pay our staff a COVID-19 premium."
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