Thunder Bay

'It's got to change': Thunder Bay rally calls for more support in long-term care homes

Don Murray knows first-hand how difficult things are for residents and workers, at Ontario's long-term care homes.

More than 100 people attend event outside provincial government buildings

About 100 people attended a rally in Thunder Bay on Monday to call for better support for long-term care in Ontario. It was one of more than a dozen rallies happening across the province. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

Don Murray knows first-hand how difficult things are for residents and workers, at Ontario's long-term care homes.

"I had both my mother and my wife in long term care for three and a half years, they both went in at the same time," Murray said Monday. "They both died last year. My mother from just general old age, she had her 100th birthday last year and then died."

"My wife had Alzheimer's," he said. "It's just the progressive thing. And she passed away in September of last year."

Murray was one of about 100 people who attended a rally in Thunder Bay on Monday, during which participants called for improved support for Ontario's long-term care homes. It was one of several rallies that took place across the province.

Murray, who's retired, said he was regularly spending 10-to-12 hours a day in one of the facilities, seven days a week, to spend time with his wife.

"I got to know the staff," he said. "I got to know the procedures in the home. I knew where the staffing board was, and as I walked by when I came in, I could see there were vacancies all the time."

"There should have been four staff on," he said. "Sometimes there is two, and they were trying to steal another staff person from another floor or whatever. And it's impossible for two people to look after 32 people."

Murray said the shortages affected care. There may not be enough staff, for example, to bathe residents regularly.

"I appreciated the efforts these staff made to look after the residents," Murray said. "But what I really got upset about was the lack of support they had, and this was a for-profit care home."

Murray said staff aren't paid enough.

Don Murray said for-profit long-term care needs to end, and workers need better wages. Murray saw the problems first-hand, as his wife and mother spent three and a half years living in long-term care facilities. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

"The jobs are terrible," he said. "It's just a terrible situation, and it's got to change."

"We have to get rid of for-profit long-term care," Murray said. "We need to make long-term care a national priority. It has to come under the Canada Care Act so that people get looked after."

Long-term care homes in Thunder Bay were very hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The worst of the outbreaks was at the Southbridge Roseview facility, were 23 people died between November 2020 and February 2021.

Claire Skochinski is a former personal support worker, who spend about a decade working with the elderly in long-term care facilities.

"What I saw was the short-staffing," she said at Monday's rally in Thunder Bay. "I saw ... issues of potential neglect."

"I saw emotional burnout," Skochinski said. "I saw the use of negative coping strategies with my colleagues, and even bullying."

Claire Skochinski, a former long-term care worker, said she's seen staffing shortages and potential neglect in long-term care facilities. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

Skochinski said her experiences, and what she heard at Monday's rally, are things she'll keep in mind when Ontario goes to the polls for the 2022 provincial election.

And in the meantime, she'll stay involved in the issue.

"I just want to do my part to actually spread the word," she said. "I've seen enough that I can't continue with that type of work. And I think anybody who is self-aware of career options, and the realities of what's happening in long-term care doesn't want to put themselves in that situation or a loved one in that situation."

Monday's rallies were hosted by the Ontario Health Coalition. In total, 17 rallies were held in cities across Ontario.

In a media release, the coalition listed a number of demands it wants the provincial government to meet:

  • Take immediate action to increase care levels and staffing to meet residents' needs.
  • Enforce standards by reinstating surprise inspections, and issue fines or revoke licences for repeated non-compliance.
  • Repeal the act shielding long-term care operators from lawsuits for negligence.
  • End for-profit LTC.
  • Ensure the human rights of LTC residents are upheld by ending unlawful detention and isolation, and ensuring full access to caregivers and families.

Later Monday, Ontario's Ministry of Long-Term Care issued a statement on the rallies to CBC Thunder Bay.

In the statement, a spokesperson said the province is investing $4.9 billion over four years to increase the number of daily direct-care for residents from 2.75 to four hours.

In addition, the province is hiring 27,000 more workers, and "introducing legislation, overhauling inspections, and will hold long-term care home licensees to account, to ensure residents are safe and well cared for."

"We will have more details about the government's plan to fix long-term care in the near future."