Health care workers in long-term care homes are pushing the province to set mandatory staffing levels.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions says 91 per cent of workers it surveyed feel they can't provide quality care because they have too many residents to care for.

The council conducted focus groups with some of the registered practical nurses and personal support workers it represents around the province.

Dorothy Winterburn

Dorothy Winterburn is a personal support worker from Minden, Ont. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Workers reported what they considered to be dangerously high resident-to-staff ratios in long-term care homes. Some personal support workers said, at times, they are left to care for up to 42 residents, while nurses said they are sometimes responsible for between 30 and 42 residents.

"Anyone that has children in daycare, the [Day] Nurseries Act provides actual ratios. We are looking at the same kind of ratios," said Kevin Tyrrell, a regional vice-president with the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

"We are kind of saying we can do it for our children, why can't we apply that same thing to our seniors?"

The council is calling on the province to create a minimum staffing ratio of one personal support worker for every eight residents in a long-term care home. It is also pushing for enough staff to provide each resident with four hours of care per day.

"I find that the community doesn't know what is actually happening behind closed doors in long-term care," said Dorothy Winterburn, a personal support worker from Minden, Ont.

"The staff are the only ones that are aware. Hopefully there is going to be change. We are going to keep knocking on government's doors."

The council plans to present its study findings at Queen's Park in January.

Long-term care issues complex

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care acknowledges there is no mandated staffing ratio for long term care homes.

The province said a 2008 study found the staffing needs in the homes to be complex and require a more comprehensive approach than setting staffing ratios.

Long-term care homes must have a written plan that assures a mix of staff to meet the needs of residents, the ministry said.

The average hours of direct care per resident per day in Ontario long-term care homes increased to 3.4 in 2013, up from 3.2 in 2008, the ministry said.

The study, Long-Term Care in Ontario: Fostering Systemic Neglect, was released in Sudbury on Nov. 10: