‘More long-term care beds won’t matter without well-paid, trained staff:’ Hamilton-based researcher

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Published May 30, 2022 at 4:51 pm

'More long-term care beds won't matter without well-paid, trained staff:' Hamilton-based researcher

As Ontario residents head the polls, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives appear poised to win consecutive provincial elections. Health care has been a key issue among the parties – particularly long-term care.

The Liberals say they will end for-profit long-term care and increase spending by 10 cent annually; the New Democrats are promising more long-term care space and an increase in the wages of personal support workers (PSWs); and the Conservatives says he will open 30,000 more beds and upgrade existing facilities.

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A Hamilton-based researcher isn’t buying any of it. In fact, he says all parties vying for the Ontario leadership are missing the mark completely.

“Their plans gloss over what is really going on — we haven’t been training nearly enough health-care workers necessary to care for our elderly,” writes Andrew Costa, associate professor of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact at McMaster University. “The promised new beds and money for services require people to actually work at long-term care facilities and provide care, which we don’t have.”

Costa, who is also the Schlegel Chair of Clinical Epidemiology and Aging at McMaster, isn’t putting all of the blame on politicians.

“All of this was predicted years ago, yet it took a pandemic for many of us to wake up to the reality. Our elder-care system is in trouble and Ontario’s fastest-growing demographic faces a grim future,” he writes. “Many of us may shortly find ourselves or our loved ones without care.”

'More long-term care beds won't matter without well-paid, trained staff:' Hamilton-based researcher

The COVID-19 pandemic was especially devasting on long-term care homes. Costa says these facilities severely lacked well-trained, adequately paid, experienced, professional care workers.

“The pandemic exposed problems that had long festered,” he explains. “Many of them boiled down to not having enough staff, or staff who weren’t trained sufficiently and who lacked experience. That’s because there is simply not enough money being spent on people to look after us as we age.”

The job of a PSW is stressful and seemingly thankless. Bathing, dressing, and helping some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens move around requires skilled and compassionate caregivers. However, the median wage for a PSW in Ontario is $16.50 an hour and around $34,000 per year.

“Whether care happens at home or in a facility, most care is provided by personal support workers, who are the unregulated backbone of elder care,” explains Costa. “Their jobs are stressful and laborious, and they don’t get paid enough. As a result, there is high staff turnover, which makes it difficult to develop an experienced, professional and committed workforce.”

“Important care is also provided by nurses, therapists, physicians and others who are also not incentivized to care for our elders,” he adds.

Costa says the promise of more long-term care beds will not help unless it includes more staff. Particularly as the number of personal care workers and nurses declines in Canada.

“It’s no surprise that burnout among care workers is at an all-time high, and many are working reduced hours or leaving health care altogether. It’s also no surprise that as society ages, so do care workers, compounding the issue,” he writes.

“What Ontario most needs is far more people caring for our elders and other vulnerable populations, and for those caregivers to be better trained and better paid.”

CEO Lisa Levin of AdvantAge Ontario, which represents non-profit and municipally-owned homes, said back in January that the government could no longer be relied upon and that some homes struggling with low staff numbers were paying family caregivers to come in and help look after other residents — not just their own family members.

She also said there were also efforts underway to recruit people, in sectors like hospitality, who aren’t working due to ongoing public health measures to take on roles like housekeeping or resident companionship.

 

–with files from The Canadian Press

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