The union representing 3,000 Thunder Bay long-term care facility workers says the sector is in a crisis, with inadequate staffing levels and funding leading to neglect and violence among residents.

Representatives and members of Unifor Local 229, as well as the Thunder Bay Health Coalition, held an information picket at Lakehead Manor on Thursday, hoping to raise awareness of the issues faced by long-term care facility staff and residents, in Thunder Bay and other Ontario cities.

Staffing levels 'unsustainable'

"The staffing ratios are unsustainable, the funding levels are unsustainable," said Kari Jefford, the local's president. "You can't feed someone on $8.33 a day — nutritious meals — here in Thunder Bay, let alone in southern Ontario."

Jefford said there are no minimum standards for staffing ratios under the Long-Term Care Act.

"In some facilities, we have one worker to 14 residents on a day shift," she said. "On an evening shift, that could be one to 28."

"In the municipal homes, which are subsidized partially by the taxpayers of Thunder Bay, the staffing ratios are one worker to eight residents," she said. "It varies, and that's if everybody shows up and there are no other issues."

In a 'crisis'

"You can imagine what that might be like if you're working short or someone doesn't show up to work, and now you have one [personal support worker] and 28 residents to take care of, and one [registered practical nurse] to anywhere from 64 to 130 residents to hand out meds, assess wounds, assess vitals."

However, Jefford said, the act does contain regulations that specify things like food temperatures and how many people can be served at a table at one time.

The staffing and funding issues have led to some serious issues within the the facilities, including, Jefford said, "violence, falls, abuse, neglect, violent interactions between resident and resident, residents being violent towards our staff."

"We are in very much a crisis," she said. "We've had workers choked by residents, beaten, kicked, slashed, hit, spit at, all sorts of things that are happening, unfortunately, daily. And there are no safety standards in place for that, but there are many regulations that we find that aren't as important as minimum staffing ratios or care ratios."

Not enough time to address residents' needs

A major issue, Jefford said, is that staffing levels don't give staff enough time to properly address the needs of long-term care facility residents.

"A lot of these kinds of behaviours that are projected by the long-term care residents, we would argue, are based on the fact that they're being rushed through their personal care, they're being shuttled down to the dining room when maybe they don't want to be," Jefford said. "This is supposed to be their home."

The union is calling on the Ontario government to implement minimum standards of care, and minimum staffing ratios, in Ontario's long-term care homes.

Jefford said Local 229 represents registered practical nurses, personal support workers, dietary aides, housekeepers, and environmental services workers in long-term care facilities.