Montreal

After slashing immigration, Quebec turns to immigrants to fill shortage in long-term care homes

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who cut immigration levels during the CAQ’s first year in power, has announced a plan to recruit 550 orderlies from abroad to work in the province’s long-term care homes.

Simon Jolin-Barrette, who oversaw cuts, announces plan to recruit 550 orderlies from abroad

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette announced the new pilot project Thursday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who cut immigration levels during the CAQ's first year in power, has announced a plan to recruit immigrants to work as orderlies in the province's long-term care homes.

"The needs are immediate," Jolin-Barrette said at a news conference Thursday. 

The pilot project to bring in 550 experienced health-care workers is part of a series of reforms to the Quebec Experience Program, or PEQ, which provides foreign students in the province and temporary workers with a fast track to permanent residency.

Since 2013, Quebec has only recruited 115 orderlies through the PEQ — a program which Jolin-Barrette tried to reduce last year as part of his immigration cuts but was forced to roll back after a flurry of criticism.

The province's long-term care institutions, known by their French initials as CHSLDs, have been short-staffed for years and face the prospect of an even more acute shortage in the fall, when experts believe a second wave of COVID-19 infections is likely to hit.

The Canadian military has said it will pull soldiers from the homes before then.

Quebec's CHSLDs have been understaffed for years and face the prospect of an even more acute shortage in the fall, when experts say a second wave of COVID-19 infections is likely to hit. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Legault aims to recruit Quebecers, too

On Wednesday, Premier François Legault presented a plan to hire 10,000 more CHSLD employees by the fall.

The government is offering prospective employees $21 per hour to take a three-month training program over the summer.

If they complete the program, the trainees' starting salary will be $26 per hour — which works out to $49,000 a year. The orderlies, known in French as préposés aux bénéficiaires (PABs), provide much of the daily care in CHSLDs.

"The problem of the préposés aux bénéficiaires is not from yesterday. It exists for years and years and years," said Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors,Thursday.

This isn't the first time Blais has promised to address the worker shortage. In 2019, she announced a plan to hire 30,000 orderlies over the next five years.

Blais now suggests people in fields like aerospace who find themselves out of work might be tempted to take on a new line of work in long-term care homes.

Blais echoed Legault, who on Wednesday asked "all Quebecers that can to consider it very seriously."

Watch Blais defend her track record:

Facing criticism over the crisis in long-term care homes, Seniors' and Caregivers' Minister Marguerite Blais vows to protect vulnerable people 0:43

The vast majority of orderlies in CHSLDs are women — 34,821 of 42,340 in both private and public facilities. Their average salary in 2019 was $40,551.

The Health Ministry did not immediately return a request for a breakdown of how many of those employees are recent immigrants. 

Plan for asylum seekers in the works

Hundreds of orderlies are asylum seekers working on temporary visas while they await a final ruling on their refugee applications. 

While the province says it has no record of the total number of asylum seekers working in CHSLDs, the Maison d'Haiti in Montreal's Saint-Michel district estimates that about 1,200 of the 5,000 Haitian asylum seekers the organization has helped since 2017 have become orderlies.

Legault had previously rejected the idea of giving any kind of preference to asylum seekers and others without status working in essential jobs during the pandemic. But there have been growing calls for him to recognize their contribution, including a rally last weekend and a petition backed by the NDP.

Earlier this week, the premier said he will now consider giving asylum seekers who work in CHSLDs a chance to stay in the province by applying as economic immigrants — the class of immigration that Quebec controls.

Legault said he asked his immigration minister to look at the situation of those workers, on a case-by-case basis, as a way of saying "thank you."

Jolin-Barrette said he is looking into the matter and is in discussions with the federal government, which oversees refugee applications.

As for the program to attract new immigrants to Quebec to work as orderlies, full details will be announced later, along with plans to advertise in foreign countries.

Watch Legault respond to a military report on CHSLDs

François Legault says the problems come from having a lack of staff, and he is launching a major drive to train thousands of new orderlies. 2:58

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler is a journalist with CBC Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

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