Concerns grow over staffing Ontario long-term care centres

Ontario is easing restrictions on staffing inside long-term care homes and retirement homes, but advocates are raising concerns about how this will affect the quality of care for seniors.

Advocates fear new order opens door for unqualified and untrained workers

A resident looks out from a window at the Promenade retirement residence, where local health officials reported Ottawa's first case of COVID-19 in a retirement or long-term care home after a resident tested positive for the novel coronavirus, on Saturday, March 28, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Several outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities and retirement residences across the province have prompted the Ontario government to ease restrictions on staffing inside these facilities.

But these changes are raising concerns about the quality of care for seniors during this pandemic.

The Ontario government order allows long-term care facilities to reassign contractors or volunteers to do work normally carried out by other staff members.

"Long-term care homes will be able to respond to, prevent and alleviate an outbreak of COVID-19 by carrying out measures such as … employing extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors … using volunteers to perform work, including to perform bargaining unit work," according to the recent Ontario government announcement.

Marissa Lennox, chief policy officer at the CARP advocacy group for Canadian seniors, is concerned the government's new order will simply open the door for unqualified and untrained workers who don't have healthcare experience.

"We know that those in long-term care have such severe and complex needs and are so vulnerable in this environment," said Lennox.

"We have a lot of questions about how we ensure that residents' and staff safety and security is not sacrificed by this decision."

Marissa Lennox is the chief policy officer at CARP, an advocacy group for Canadian seniors. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

Another concern is the removal of requirements for reporting incidents at the facilities, according to CARP.

But groups representing seniors residences and long-term care centres welcome the loosening of staffing restrictions.

Flexibility is crucial 

Flexibility of staffing is crucial as more workers get sick or are required to go into self-isolation according to Lisa Levins, CEO of AdvantAge, which represents 400 seniors housing providers across Ontario.

"If push comes to shove and a home just cannot get enough personal support workers in, then they will have to bring in other people," said Levins.

"For example, developmental service workers or foreign trained professional health care workers."

Lisa Levins is the CEO of AdvantAge, which represents 400 seniors housing providers across Ontario. (AdvantAge Ontario)

In Ottawa, there are currently COVID-19 outbreaks in four long-term care or retirement centres.

Facilities for seniors in Perth, Pembroke and Almonte are also dealing with cases of both residents and or staff getting sick.

On Tuesday, Ontario premier Doug Ford told reporters that seniors in the province must be protected "at all cost", noting his own mother-in-law is in a facility under lockdown.

His government has made several announcements over the past week to assist long-term care facilities that are coping with the threat or reality of COVID-19 cases, including changes to who is tested.