TORONTO - The Ontario government is giving Long-Term Care (LTC) some much needed and overdue attention. The Covid-19 pandemic has shined a light on the neglect the sector experienced for years.
If the number of Covid-19 related fatalities (2,035) within the resident population of LTC homes did not sound the alarm, the horrific conditions detailed in the scathing report by the Canadian Armed Forces at five facilities was the “punch in the gut”.
There is no denying the system needs change. Earlier this week, Premier Ford announced another measure to that effect. The Ontario government committed to increasing hours of direct care each LTC resident receives to four hours per day, up from an average of 2.75 hours per day.
Advocates for seniors have called for and supported the increase in hours of direct care for years.
The announcement comes days after the recommendation was made by the Ontario’s LTC Covid-19 Commission.
However, this type of change will not happen overnight, nor in a few days. The government plans to achieve this standard within four years.
That may be too late for the needs of residents, the average age of those living in LTC being 85 years. The extra 1.25 hours of direct care could prove beneficial in enhancing the quality of life for seniors living with complex medical conditions, especially as they age. To achieve that goal and improve the level of care, the proper personnel – better trained and committed staff - is required. Chronic understa. ng has plagued LTC for years.
Right now, the focus is to improve the quality of care to some 78,000 seniors living in Ontario’s 626 LTC homes. The work that Personal Support Workers (PSWs) do in caring for our seniors is invaluable. It is a selfless job and one that involves risk with little job security – and low pay.
The effects of Covid-19 have prompted a greater need for PSWs than ever before. In September, the Province announced it will invest $52.5 million, part of which will be used to recruit, retrain, and support over 3,700 more frontline health workers and caregivers.
Based on the numbers released by the Ministry of Long-Term Care Sta. ng Study (July 2020), it is estimated that LTC homes employ over 100,000 people, of which roughly 58% (about 58,000) are PSWs.
While training positions have not declined, there is an apparent reduction of students entering the PSW training program. In 2015/16, over 8,000 students were enrolled in training, compared to 6,500 three years later – just prior to the virus.
Overall, job tenure of a PSW poses a challenge to retaining a robust workforce. About 40% of PSWs leave the health care sector within one year of graduating and training. Moreover, 25% (one out of every four) leave the LTC sector of those after two or more years experience. Finally, only 50% are still employed after five years.
The Province has yet to address the staffing strategies it will implement to meet the necessary target of four (4) hours of direct care, per resident, per day. One thing is certain, a reliable number of personnel is necessary to achieve the government standard by the year 2025.
Advocates for PSWs have been calling for better working conditions and livable wages. The average starting wage for a PSW in Ontario is between $17-$18 per hour.
In the beginning of October, the Province announced a temporary increase of $3/hour for eligible PSWs in LTC until March 2021. The proposed changes and investments into the sector are a welcome relief to LTC, which bore the brunt of the effects of Covid-19.
And now? Only time will tell if these sums are enough to deliver the necessary changes and entice a greater number of PSWs into the workforce to help seniors in LTC live out the remainder of their life with dignity.