Health care and front-line workers could be key to hotly contested Ottawa West-Nepean

The COVID-19 pandemic, a large population of health-care workers and an older population all contribute to placing health care at the top of the agenda in the closely-contested riding of Ottawa West-Nepean.

Residents concerned about primary care, community care and long-term care

The recruitment, compensation and retention of health-care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and home care settings may be a ballot-box question for many voters in Ottawa West-Nepean. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

With an aging population and a large portion of the riding employed in the health-care sector, Ottawa West-Nepean voters could cast their ballots with health — and especially elder care — at the top of their minds.

Suzanne Barnett, a retired nurse who was visiting Britannia Beach with her former colleagues, said four of the five of them had recently lost their family doctors and had struggled to get a new one. 

"That is the most important thing for me right now: health care, not highways," said Barnett, who used to work at The Royal, Ottawa's mental health centre.

The five friends also spoke of, among other things, the Progressive Conservative's Bill 124 that capped public sector wages, including for nurses.

Suzanne Barnett, a retired nurse in Ottawa West-Nepean, said health care is her top priority in the 2022 provincial election. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"There [are] not enough nurses. They're leaving. They've burnt out since COVID. They're not making enough money," Barnett said.

She said she also wants to see improvement to the long-term care sector, which she said was ill-prepared for the pandemic.

Ottawa West-Nepean is expected to be a hotly contested riding in the June 2 provincial election. In 2018, Progressive Conservative Jeremy Roberts defeated his closest rival, the NDP's Chandra Pasma, by just 175 votes — unseating the incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Bob Chiarelli.

Roberts and Pasma are running again, with new candidates representing the other two major parties — Sam Bhalesar for the Liberals and Steven Warren for the Greens.

CBC News spoke to voters in the riding who also want to see provincial candidates address affordability, education and child care.

The riding is home to one of the city's older populations and a large share of residents are employed in the health and social services sector, suggesting medical and elder care will be a major focus for voters.

WATCH | Voters hope government tackles these issues:

Here’s what Ottawa West-Nepean voters hope the next provincial government will tackle

5 months ago
Duration 2:17
Residents of Ottawa West-Nepean say they’re hoping the next provincial government will prioritize health care, child care and education.

Katherine Ross, a nurse supervisor with Carefor Health & Community Services, lives in the riding.

She said Carefor already provides services to many residents in the area, both at home and at their Carling Avenue clinic, but said the people working in her field are underappreciated.

"The [patient load is] increasing and yet the workforce is decreasing," Ross said.

Katherine Ross, a nurse supervisor with Carefor who lives in Ottawa West-Nepean, says the non-profit charity serves many clients in the riding. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

She said the responsibilities of home care nurses have expanded to provide more complex procedures — including chemotherapy and palliative treatments — but those expanded responsibilities haven't been recognized.

"The wage disparity between the hospitals and home care, it doesn't make it attractive."

While home care policies are touted as a way to keep people out of long-term care facilities, people with complex care such as dementia may require around-the-clock care.

Ottawa West-Nepean is also home to several retirement and long-term care facilities, such as the privately owned Revera Carlingview Manor and the city-run Peter D. Clark Centre.

    LTC changes needed

    CARP Ottawa, the local chapter of the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, is in the midst of a campaign called Change LTC Now. It calls for provincial parties to support the restructuring of long-term care homes.

    "The issue is if something isn't done now, while people finally understand what the problems are, people will forget," said Kathy Wright with CARP Ottawa.

    The Carlingview Manor long-term care home, as seen in Ottawa in July 2021, sits in the riding. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

    Wright said the goal is to move from "task-based" to "emotion-based" care, which creates a smaller, family-like community in residences and involves all staff providing support.

    "When you think about it, we're talking about creating a home," she said.

    While the Ontario NDP, Liberals and Greens have all vowed to change the ownership model to remove for-profit enterprises, Wright said she's less concerned about who owns a facility and more focused on regulations and accountability.

    Candidates respond

    Pasma said the NDP wants to make both home care and long-term care non-profit, so money that would otherwise go to shareholders is invested in improving quality set by new regulatory standards. The party platform includes $1 billion toward home care

    "We believe all that money should be going to care, so we provide the best level of care to seniors and persons living with disabilities," she said.

    WATCH | NDP candidate says expanding home care a priority:

    Home care and long-term care are top of mind ahead of election, NDP candidate says

    5 months ago
    Duration 1:34
    Chandra Pasma, NDP candidate in Ottawa West-Nepean, says expanding home care and ending the for-profit long-term care system are priorities for the party.

    Liberal candidate Bhalesar has both personal support workers and nurses in her home, where she cares for her mother. She said her party's plan would expand home care to 400,000 more seniors and increase personal support worker (PSW) pay to $25 an hour.

    "We're going to have some sort of collapse in the future if we don't do the right things now," Bhalesar said.

    Green candidate Warren, whose mother is a nurse, said health care is a clear priority in the riding and his party also supports increasing wages to $25 an hour for PSWs. 

    The Green Party platform includes a nurse-led task force on recruitment, retention and safety for nurses. 

    WATCH | Green candidate wants autistic representation in Queen's Park:

    Green Party candidate says Queen’s Park needs autistic representation

    5 months ago
    Duration 0:41
    Steve Warren, who’s running for the Green Party in Ottawa West-Nepean and who is autistic, says he’s disappointed with the way the Ford government has handled changes to the province’s autism program.

    The PC party said Roberts was not available for an interview and didn't respond to questions for this story. 

    Prior to the election, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced a billion dollars toward expanding home care services over the next three years. 

    The Ford government also announced it was hiring more long-term care staff, creating new spaces and increasing time spent on direct care to four hours.