Joining their provincial and national counterparts to demand action on the state of long-term care, the Kawartha Lakes Health Coalition (KLHC) said staffing levels must improve.
The KLHC joined the Ontario Health Coalition in a “Day of Action” for long-term care across Canada, and demanded the Ford government take immediate action.
Over 1,900 Ontario residents and staff in long-term care homes have died of COVID-19, and the coalition says many of these victims were without adequate care.
Bonnie Kennedy, co-chair of the KLHC, said the systems in place for long-term care did not just become dire when COVID hit. In 2017 the problem began when the government started to do reductions in funding resulting in staffing inadequacies. The situation has now become dire with COVID-19, she says.
A staffing survey conducted by the Ontario Health Coalition this July shows less staff are on since the virus hit because quite a few staff were put in overly stressful work situations.
“Long hours, large number of residents to care for due to the reduced staff, lack of proper PPE and sheer exhaustion and burnout were [some of the] reasons staff left long-term care,” said Kennedy.
Karen Vaughan, a long-term care nurse for 28 years, told the Advocate that is not her personal experience as a Kawartha Lakes nurse. “When we had our [first] COVID outbreak, people continued working. Nobody abandoned the workplace. Those PSWs are hard workers.”
Zac Miller, co-chair of KLHC, brought forward budget numbers that he says don’t make sense.
“In terms of the money the government has announced to hire nurses,” explained Miller, “they allotted $18 million for 600 nurses, but that only equates to about $30,000 per nurse, or PSWs (personal support worker). Obviously that money will be used to top up some of the wages but it certainly won’t buy a nurse. And then there was another announcement that they would allot $8 million for 800 nurses. When you do the math on that one, that’s $10,000 per nurse, and that’s certainly not going to buy a nurse for long-term care. There’s no actual plan, there’s no provincial plan to recruit staff and that’s desperately needed,” Miller says.
There is also a demand to ensure all residents of long-term care homes get a minimum care standard of four hours of hands-on care per day. Kennedy told the Advocate there currently isn’t a guaranteed minimum care standard for residents at all in the province of Ontario.
The Ontario Health Coalition is also asking for the end of for-profit long-term care.
“In some of the for-profit homes staffing is even worse,” said Kennedy, “because shareholders have continued to get their dividends throughout the pandemic…With the privatization over the years of many of the homes things have somewhat deteriorated. Not all homes, but in general there’s been a deterioration of the care.”
“Residents in Kawartha Lakes,” said Miller, “we encourage you to write letters to MPP Laurie Scott, the minister of health Christine Elliott, the minister of long-term care Merilee Fullerton and obviously Premier Doug Ford, and hopefully they start listening.”
COVID has prevented a mass protest planned for Queen’s Park but speaking out to leaders individually is encouraged, say organizers.