Windsor

Personal support workers fear for their safety and seniors, union leader says

Personal support workers who work in long-term care homes and retirement homes are concerned they will get COVID-19 or give it to the seniors they care for.

'We do have a lot of members who actually sit in their car and cry before they go in,' says Tulio DiPonti

Tulio DiPonti is president of Unifor Local 2458, which represents personal support workers at 22 long-term care and retirement homes in Windsor-Essex. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has personal support workers (PSWs) worried for their safety and the safety of the seniors they are working with.

"We do have a lot of members who actually sit in their car and cry before they go in," said Tulio DiPonti, president of Unifor Local 2458 which represents PSWs at 22 long-term care and retirement homes in Windsor-Essex.

Up until this week, DiPonti said, PSWs were only being given personal protective equipment (PPE) if the seniors' home had an outbreak.

"Which was a little bit disturbing to us and put a little bit more fear into our members," he said.

Now any worker asking for a mask, gloves or gown should have access.

Still, a shortage of workers has also proven to be a concern. 

"I can tell you I get a call every day where our facilities are losing 10 or 15 people at a time, sometimes less than that," said DiPonti. "Recently I got a call where 23 people didn't come, because either they were isolating or the fear factor they didn't want to go in."

DiPonti suggested that seniors' homes should follow the example of the Heron Terrace Long-Term Care Community in Windsor.

He said PSWs get a $3 per hour raise during the pandemic and they're being offered RVs and a duplex so they don't have to go home and potentially spread the disease to their families.

I get a call every day where our facilities are losing 10 or 15 people at a time ...- Tulio DiPonti, President, Unifor Local 2458

"They even send staff flowers. So that's what we need from the rest of the owners," said DiPonti.

"I think that's fantastic because it's nice to see people pulling together and doing everything they can," said Mike Fisher, who lives with a family member who is a health-care worker.

"These are unprecedented times. So anything we normally do, we have to set those aside, so you do what you have to do to ensure those staff come to work," said John Scotland, CEO for the Steeves & Rozema Group, which owns Heron Terrace.

Scotland said one of his biggest concerns now is ensuring his staff have enough PPE. He said there are enough face masks but the number of gowns are getting low.

 

With files from Jason Viau

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