The head of the Ontario Homecare Association says a pending strike by personal support workers is a symptom of a broader funding problem.

Homecare workers employed by Red Cross Care Partners across the province will go on strike Wednesday morning — and that includes more than 20 homecare workers in Thunder Bay.

In a news release, the union representing them — SEIU Healthcare — said the workers are paid "poverty-level wages of $15 an hour." 

The chief executive officer of the Ontario Homecare Association, Sue VanderBent, said homecare providers want to pay their personal support workers more, but the funding isn't there.

VanderBent said the association representing about 50 homecare service agencies across the province has spent years calling for better wages for personal support workers. 

Sue VanderBent

Sue VanderBent, the CEO of the Ontario Homecare Association, says a coming strike by personal support workers is a symptom of a broader funding problem. (Supplied)

VanderBent pointed out that homecare only gets four per cent of the province's entire health budget.

"The system's very much built on a model of acute care, where we go somewhere else to get care,” she said.

"The previous expectation was that we would have large hospitals, we would have large long-term facilities ... And that's where, in fact, the majority of the money in health care has been traditionally spent.”

Getting funding to the front lines

VanderBent said the health care system is shifting as the population ages and people's expectations change. 

"[Clients are] saying, 'no ... I want to be at home and, if I need care, I want you to come to me.'"

VanderBent said the Ontario government is funding homecare, but added that it takes time to re-allocate where the money goes in the health-care system. 

Sharleen Stewart

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, says her members face tough working conditions and low wages. (Supplied)

But the president of SEIU Healthcare said government funding for homecare isn't reaching the "front line." 

"We have got to demand that those resources and that money gets ... to the clients and to their caregivers,” said Sharleen Stewart.

She said there's no transparency in how the money from the government is spent, adding that if homecare providers can't afford to pay wages to retain and recruit PSWs, they shouldn't be in the business.

"We've been warning that a [homecare] crisis was coming for over 10 years ... as our senior population is increasing," Stewart said. "And it's here."