Home Care Ontario | Aug 06, 2020
Rob Ferguson, Toronto Star - Augus6, 2020
Sue VanderBent is quoted in the two paragraphs below.
What began as a shout-out to personal support workers at his mother-in-law’s nursing home ended up as a promise from Premier Doug Ford to give PSWs a raise.
“I know I might open a can of worms but they are grossly underpaid in my opinion,” Ford said Thursday, one week after a report on staffing levels in long-term care recommended his government “urgently” hire new nurses and front-line workers to give nursing-home residents four hours of care daily.
The report said a staff shortage was made worse by poor working conditions during COVID-19, with almost 2,600 nursing home workers contracting the virus, leaving remaining colleagues to pick up the slack. About 5,900 residents caught the illness and more than 1,800 died in addition to eight people who cared for them, mostly PSWs.
Ford was mum on how big a raise personal support workers will get, telling reporters “I can’t put a figure on that…just stay tuned.” The workers typically earn about $20 hourly, depending on whether they’re in home care, a nursing home or hospital.
“I know the next question from the media is what are you going to do about it? Well, we’ll sit down, we’re going to come up with a solution to support these people,” the premier added, naming about two dozen PSWs at the west-end nursing home where his mother-in-law tested positive for COVID-19 at the peak of the pandemic.
“They’re underpaid, as far as I’m concerned they’re overworked, and I just want to tell you how grateful I am…it’s personal.”
The New Democrats accused Ford of “feigning surprise” over how hard PSWs work given that concerns about their plight have been well documented.
“Staff are paid barely above minimum wage and they’re often stuck trying to put together part-time jobs without benefits at several homes just to make ends meet,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Ford has acknowledged the shortage of workers in long-term care but not committed to the four-hour standard, which would cost an extra $1.6 billion a year to increase hands-on care such as bathing, toileting, diaper changes, dressing, and grooming done by PSWs.
Care levels now average about 2.7 hours daily and the staffing report said new hiring is needed before a second wave of COVID-19 hits. At the height of the rapid spread of the virus through nursing homes, some were down to 20 per cent of typical staffing levels and required help from military medical teams.
A union representing personal support workers said Ford’s promise of a raise is “welcome news” but more than bigger paycheques are needed.
“What we need now are historic investments in human resources with more front-line staff, more full-time employment, and increased universal wages, benefits and pensions for all PSWs,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare.
Many nursing-home workers can only get part-time hours and have to work at more than one home to make a living — but the practice was eventually limited by emergency order over concerns workers were spreading the virus from one facility to another.
The staffing report noted turnover and attrition of personal support workers is high, with the pipeline of future PSWs in training getting smaller and industry sources pointing to pay and working conditions. PSWs account for 58 per cent of nursing-home staff.
“Just this week we saw costs jump the most in 46 years,” Stewart added. “While PSWs fight COVID-19, they shouldn’t also expect to be fighting to put food on the table and a roof over their head. It’s not right, especially when for-profit long-term-care operators continue to pay shareholders millions of dollars in dividends.”
Home Care Ontario said PSWs in providing care for people in their own homes are paid “considerably less” than counterparts in nursing homes and this disparity must also be addressed, or else personal support workers will flee home care for higher wages in long-term care and hospitals.
“The consequences of supporting PSWs in one sector and not the other could be dire for our seniors,” said Sue VanderBent, chief executive of the organization. “Ontario’s home-care system delivers more care to seniors than any other part of the health-care system.”