KAWARTHA LAKES – A recent survey done by the Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland and Peterborough Health Coalitions, revealed the conditions in local long-term care facilities as they continued to decline amid the pandemic.
In the spring, the local health coalitions launched the anonymous survey completed by front-line workers within long-term care, LTC, workplaces in Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough and Northumberland regions. Long-term Care homes is the term now used for nursing homes, charitable homes, and municipal homes for the aged.
“In March 2020 a Covid-19 outbreak was declared at Pinecrest Nursing Home, a privately owned facility in Bobcaygeon, in just over two weeks, 28 deaths were reported which was half the number of residents at the facility,” said Bonnie Kennedy, Kawartha Lakes Health Coalition co-chair. “These people lived, worked or retired in the community, they were valued members of the Bobcaygeon community, these were residents at Pinecrest because they had needs that required more care than their families could provide at home, their families were relying on the health care system to provide that care but the situation was grim, residents were weak and vulnerable and the staff was overworked. This devastating loss of life has deeply impacted the families, friends and our whole community.”
According to Kennedy, in April of 2021, the auditor general reported that LTC facilities were not equipped to deal with the ensuing pandemic.
“The province only gave guidance as opposed to implementing necessary requirements such as personal protective equipment as well as infection control and prevention practices, which would have helped with the spread of Covid-19,” she said. “The report contents were not a surprise to many in the long-term care sector, considering the cumulative effect of underfunding. We need to keep the issues in long term care in the forefront, deficiencies in the system are tragedies waiting to happy again, and must be repaired, we must ensure the memories of these community members are not forgotten.”
76% of those surveyed said they are working short-staffed every day. According to a recent press release from the local health coalitions, chronic underfunding and privatization of health care has had an increasingly negative impact in long-term care. Decades of underfunding, understaffing, part-time work, no sick pay, and a focus on profits over care have deeply eroded Ontario’s long-term care system. During COVID-19 almost 4,000 residents died in LTC.
“Those in power have ignored strong criticisms of the living and labour conditions in Canada’s LTC system for decades. But the research is unambiguous, for-profit facilities offer comparatively substandard care. In fact, the CMA recommended a transition away from private facilities as far back as 1984. It should come as no surprise that LTC homes were woefully unprepared to survive the impact of the virus,” said Kennedy.
According to Macey Aramburo from the Ministry of Long-Term Care, the government is committed to improving the quality of life of residents in long-term care homes by addressing long-standing and systemic issues facing the sector.
“We have launched the largest long-term care staff recruitment and training drive in the province’s history and are investing $4.9 billion over four years to help hire more than 27,000 new personal support workers, registered nurses and registered practical nurses in long-term care,” she said. “We are also investing $200 million to train up to 16,500 new PSWs at Ontario’s publicly assisted colleges, private career colleges, and district school boards.”
As the long-term care facility conditions continue to cause concern, the three area coalitions are calling on the Ontario government to implement the following measures:
- End for-profit Long-Term Care homes,
- Follow through on your promise to hire additional qualified staff without fast- tracking undertrained students or reducing qualifications,
- Ensure all LTC residents receive at least the minimum four hours of direct hands- on care per day your government promised,
- Set a minimum pay standard, consistent with the hospital sector, for frontline LTC staff that includes not only personal support workers and other medical professionals, but also cleaning, food service and administrative staff,
- Ensure a minimum of 70 per cent of staff at each LTC home are full-time.
“Chronic underfunding and privatization of health care have had an increasingly negative impact, particularly in long-term care, as has been made painfully obvious during Covid,” said Linda Mackenzie-Nicholas from the Northumberland Health Coalition. “Decades of underfunding, understaffing, poor working conditions, high levels of violence and a focus on profits over quality care have eroded Canada’s system of long-term care to the breaking point, leaving us tragically unprepared to protect the lives of our most vulnerable.”
According to Kennedy, the number of residents has soared as Ontario governments had cut hospital beds to the lowest rates per capita amongst all provinces in Canada. Almost no other country and no other province has cut hospital beds to such an extreme as Ontario.
As a result, heavier care patients were offloaded from hospitals into long-term care. But care levels in LTC are not the same as in hospitals. It was found that one-half of Ontario’s chronic care hospital beds had been closed and the acuity of residents in long-term care matches chronic care hospital level, but the funding of long-term care only matched one-third of the hospital rate, she said.
“We are making every effort to bring and hold the public’s attention to an extremely important issue that has been exacerbated by a pandemic that has changed everything,” said Peterborough Health Coalition spokesperson, Roy Brady. “This issue has been around for a long time and much has been promised but not delivered, time is against us.”
The government says it is also investing $35 million to increase enrollment in nursing education programs across the province to support the training of up to 2,000 new registered nurses and registered practical nurses who can work in our long-term care homes, she said.
“These important investments will help us meet our commitment to deliver an average of four hours of direct care per resident per day,” said Aramburo. “The government also recently announced $141 million to extend the temporary wage increase for personal support workers and direct support workers in publicly funded home and community care, long-term care, public hospitals and the social services sector, until August 23, 2021.”
According to Aramburo, this includes the continuation of the of $3 per hour increase for approximately 50,000 eligible workers in the long-term sector. The province will closely monitor the increase to assess its impact on service levels, recruitment, retention and overall supply to inform next steps.
The government says it is also investing $246 million over the next four years to improve living conditions in existing homes, including ensuring homes have air conditioning for residents. As of May 15, 2021 all long-term care homes are required to have designated cooling areas with air conditioning and all 626 long-term care homes in Ontario are in compliance. In some homes there is still no air conditioning in residents rooms.
Currently, 60 per cent of homes are fully air-conditioned, including in all resident rooms, compared to 42 per cent last summer according to the province. An additional 23 per cent of homes are working toward being fully air-conditioned. The province claims this means at least 83 percent of homes will have full air conditioning by this summer. The ministry is currently updating cooling guidelines, which will require air conditioning in resident rooms and expects to have those ready shortly.
“The ministry is in the process of closely reviewing the recently released reports and recommendations from the Auditor General and Long-Term Care Commission and implementing the significant changes needed to address long-standing and systemic issues facing the sector,” she said. “All long-term care homes, regardless of their ownership or governance model, must comply with the requirements under the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007 and Ontario Regulation 79/10, which is designed to help ensure that residents receive safe, consistent, high-quality care that centres on the resident, and to promote residents’ rights. We will continue to work in collaboration with all of our sector partners to help improve residents’ quality of life, including stabilizing, attracting and retaining the workforce needed to provide a high-level of care to our loved ones.”
The survey asked participants various questions and revealed a common shortage of staff, some reported a lack of personal protective equipment while others reported that not all staff had been vaccinated. For more information and to review the survey, visit https://www.facebook.com/ontariohealth/videos/1184695422017895/.