Sudbury

PSW shortage to be addressed with staffing strategy, provincial government says

The provincial government is working on a staffing strategy to address the shortage of personal support workers in Ontario. A recent report shows an urgent need for more PSWs in long term care. The Minister of Long term Care says the strategy will by implemented by the end of 2020.

Long term and home care systems experiencing urgent shortage of personal support workers

The provincial government says it will be addressing the shortage of PSWs in long-term care through a staffing strategy, which will be conducted with a panel of experts, and implemented by the end of 2020. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The provincial government says it is working to address the need for more personal support workers in health care.

A recent report from the Ontario Health Coalition calls the province-wide shortage of PSWs in long term care facilities a crisis.

That report found that many PSWs were leaving the field after being overworked, underpaid, burned out or injured. Several recommendations within the report were directed towards the provincial government.

Ontario's Long Term Care Minister, Merrilee Fullerton, says help is on the way, and the government is taking action.

She announced a staffing strategy earlier this month as part of the recommendations from the Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long Term Care Homes System.

Merrilee Fullerton is Ontario's Minister of Long Term Care. (Canadian Press)

She says a panel of experts will determine the best model and mix of professional skills needed within long term care, including PSWs.

Fullerton says the group has been given a broad mandate which also includes looking at wages.

"They will be reaching out to our care professional representative groups, to our stakeholders and make sure that this is an inclusive approach."

"I call it spreading the ripple, to make sure everyone is included and voices are heard because this is an absolute necessity that we address this," she said.

Last fall, the Conservative government committed to creating 15,000 new long term care beds in the province.

"But that capacity needs staffing and we need to understand what the challenges are with our personal support workers and our front-line workers,and that's exactly what we're doing" Fullerton said.

"It's just so important that our loved ones get the quality care that they deserve — their well being and their safety is paramount for me, for the ministry and for the government."

The experts will work on the staffing strategy over the next ten months, and Fullerton says it should be implemented by the end of the year.

The report from the Ontario Health Coalition shows more PSWs are urgently needed in long term care facilities, but the home care system is also dealing with a serious shortage of these workers.

Home Care Ontario represents 70 home care providers in the province. Those providers employ PSWs to provide care to patients who want to remain in their homes.

CEO Sue VanderBent says the shortage of PSWs in home care is due to lower wages and scheduling problems.

Sue VanderBent is the CEO of Home Care Ontario. (Home Care Ontario)

A PSW who provides care to patients in their homes usually provides care in the morning and/or evening, either to help a client get ready for the day or retire for the night.

"But in the middle of the day that's when often there is not enough work and so the PSW is left with a hole in their day and we need to smooth out that scheduling, so that we can make sure people have meaningful work all day long," VanderBent said.

The wages for home care PSWs are partly paid through government funding to home care, which Vanderbent calls "an under investment."

She wants to see PSWs get a bump in wages.

"We're asking for a five per cent increase for five years to catch up," she said.

VanderBent is encouraged that the provincial government is working to address the PSW shortage in long term care.

"PSWs move from one part of the system to the other so the PSW could be working hours in the long term care as well as hours in home care. So we would benefit as a sector in terms of anything we could do," VanderBent said.

"These workers are so valuable to keeping all of our elderly citizens healthy and happy."

About the Author

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 14 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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