Ontario’s long-term care needs urgent fix: report

  • November 16, 2019

OTTAWA -- A new report by a faith-based think tank says the long-term care system in Ontario is failing those who live in long-term care facilities and the workers who take care of them.

“Workers in Ontario’s long-term care (LTC) homes provide care and support for thousands of seniors every day — but there are not nearly enough of them,” according to “People Over Paperwork”, a special report released by Cardus on Nov. 12. 

“Though LTC residents have increasingly acute care needs, there is a worsening shortage of workers who provide care. At the same time, the demand for LTC beds far exceeds supply and the growing backlog is harming the entire health-care system,” the report said.

While the number of Ontarians age 75 and over increased by 20 per cent between 2011 and 2018, the number of LTC beds only went up 0.8 per cent, the report said. More than 35,000 are on a LTC wait list and the average wait time is five months, according to the study.

Cardus, a non-partisan faith-based think tank, is calling on government to bring together those with a stake in the system to identify ways to improve the system and commit to implementing solutions to the problems faced in long-term care in Ontario.

Cardus concedes that there are no easy answers and expecting a cash-strapped provincial government to pour more money into the system to increase the pay of personal support workers (PSW) to retain existing workers and attract more of them is not realistic.

“Ontario’s financial problems mean it is unfeasible for the provincial government to try making the LTC sector more attractive for new and existing workers by raising wages alone; it must also improve workers’ job satisfaction which is associated with a variety of positive outcomes, including intention to stay, performance and productivity,” the report said.

The report said that PSWs are worse off financially today than they were a decade ago, which leads to a high turnover rate of workers as their salaries fall behind the rate of inflation, while at the same time they are dealing with more demands on their time to fill out “excessive” paperwork. 

The report points to a 2018 survey of LTC homes by the Ontario Long-Term Care Association that revealed 80 per cent of respondents said they “struggled” to fill shifts.

“In a job where every minute counts, increased regulation is forcing personal support workers to sacrifice care of residents in favour of filling out forms and documents,” said Brian Dijkema, co-author of the report and Cardus’ vice-president of External Affairs.

 “Often, PSWs are spending unpaid time off-shift to finish their paperwork. This feeds into the shortage of PSWs in Ontario because folks who are over-stretched and unsatisfied leave long-term care homes for greener pastures.”

According to Cardus, a research project by the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) showed that “CLAC members regularly express their frustration at having to fill in redundant and excessive paperwork while struggling to meet the increasing demands of resident care.” 

Cardus said improving the job satisfaction level of long-term care workers is vital as a means of retaining and attracting workers.

“If Ontario wants to attract and maintain an effective workforce for long-term care homes, it must find ways to improve personal support workers’ job satisfaction,” Dijkema said. 

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