The clear recommendations from Ontario’s Long-Term Care Commission for the creation of more full-time jobs and, on the application of the precautionary principle in health care settings, require that the provincial government and the medical officer of health act immediately to prevent more COVID-19 deaths and LTC resident harm, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
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CUPE today called on the Premier, his minister of long-term care and minister of health and the Chief Medical Officer of Health to move on key Commission recommendations and take immediate steps to:
- provide immediate funding for full-time positions and more care at the bedside;
- provide funding for a permanent wage increase for all health care workers to stabilize the sector;
- fast-track the implementation of the promised 4-hour care standard by dramatically ramping up recruitment and retention efforts now
- change the guidelines to apply the precautionary principle to better protect health care workers to highest level, a move that would acknowledge the growing evidence of aerosol transmission of COVID-19;
- change the funding mechanism for long-term care to recognize the complex and rising levels of care needed by residents;
- fund resources to deal with trauma among health care workers and residents and introduce legislation to provide presumptive WSIB coverage for front-line health care workers diagnosed with PTSD.
While COVID-19 stalked, found, and killed frail long-term care residents, the Commission’s findings “make it abundantly evident that the government’s lack of planning, lethargy, inaction and poor decisions opened the door that let the virus into neglected and understaffed homes where the majority of staff are part-time,” says CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer Candace Rennick, who, along with several CUPE personal support workers, registered practical nurses and other front-line staff testified before the Commission, and is quoted in their report.
Rennick told the Commission that the working conditions and over-reliance on a part-time workforce have a direct impact on resident care levels and quality. “Now with the Commission report echoing that,” she says, “this is no longer up for debate. The PC’s must stop pretending that the responsibility to prevent more calamity does not rest with them when it does. They must act quickly to create full-time, better paid jobs immediately and front-end funding for a four-hour care standard now, not down the road.”
The LTC Commission and the Ontario Auditor’s report both identify the province’s push to move to transfer more than 700 alternative level of care, mostly elderly hospital patients to already crowded long-term care homes, without the protective infections systems, equipment and ventilation found in hospitals – just as the pandemic hit Ontario.
“The province must be held responsible for this ill-fated decision and other practices that discriminate based on age. The government was focused on reducing hospital occupancy because it knew its under-funding meant hospitals lack capacity and cannot deal with surges. The government’s decision to move hospital patients into LTC, and the decision to keep sick LTC residents out of hospital, led to crowded long-term care homes where the respiratory virus ran rampant, killing thousands. Even after this disaster the government continues on a course to cut hospital capacity even more,” says Michael Hurley the president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE). “More tragedy awaits.”
The Commission, like CUPE and many others, sees no role for a focus on profit in the provision of care. However, a hybrid, private development model for new homes is counter-intuitive to growing capacity in the long-term care sector. Hospitals built under a private model provide 30% fewer beds and staff to offset the higher costs of private sector borrowing and the need to show profits.
“There should be no grey area – all parts of LTC should be non-profit or public from the bricks and mortar building to the care and staffing,” says Hurley.
Both Rennick and Hurley stress that the nearly 20-year effort of more than 35,000 CUPE long-term care sector members advocating for increased care and staffing levels is evident in the Commission recommendations and they say, “we are forever grateful to those members who bravely shared their stories with the Commission and for the tenacious drive of all our front-line members in long-term care to make resident care better and for the commitment and compassion they bring to their jobs every day despite grueling, demoralizing workloads and risky conditions – especially over the course of the pandemic.”
Stella Yeadon CUPE Communications 416-559-9300 email@example.com