Opinion

Ontario’s plan to hire 4,000 LTC staff is misguided. Here’s why.

The Ontario government’s plan to invest $260 million and hire 4,000 staff within a year in the long-term care sector is, simply put, misguided.

The reason given for this financial injection is to meet the goal of providing long-term care residents with an average of four hours direct care per day.  Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips, in his Oct. 6 announcement, also stated, “This investment will allow all homes to hire and retain the staff they need.”

This is simply not true. What this announcement and funding scheme reflect is yet another ineffective attempt to solve the crisis of the worker shortage without addressing the bigger issue – retaining the folks in these positions.

Retaining personal support workers (PSWs) – a persistent and steadily growing issue –  matters. Educating and training them is costly but government spending in the past year and more has focused mainly on recruitment, leaving retention planning and strategizing lower on the list of priorities.

Health-care providers at all levels are burned out as the pandemic continues and are taking medical leave or quitting their jobs. Despite cries of help from industry stakeholders, politicians and decision-makers are ignoring the data. Why?

Critics and advocates like myself are dumbfounded by the indecision and political banter that skirts the issues.

Frankly, it’s exasperating. Since this is my area of specialty, I am going to focus on PSWs – the workers who provide personal care (bathing, feeding, dressing, positioning and toileting) of patients. Without them, residents and patients would suffer desperately as their dignity and independence often depend mainly on PSWs.

The shortage of this level of unregulated worker was documented even before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation. 

In Ontario, government initiatives to “solve” this included temporary pay increases, a voluntary registry to regulate PSWs and, worst of all, more educational programs to accelerate learning or water the programs down for new levels of worker. 

Temporary pay increases, with extensions given every few months, are like dangling a carrot and saying thanks for your hard work dear “unsung heroes and front-line angels,” but please keep working. And when the pandemic is over, we will end the pay increase. How insulting. 

It is because most of this workforce is made up of women and minorities that this kind of political nonsense flies. Marginalized groups know this all too well.

This is yet another ineffective attempt to solve the crisis without addressing the bigger issue – retaining the folks in these positions.

Instead of providing a higher level of regulation similar to that afforded to nurses and doctors, Bill 283, which became law in the spring, creates an oversight authority with questionable disciplinary frameworks for PSWs and is based on voluntary registration. This will not protect the public; the lack of clarity on regulations is an example of flimsy planning.

Accelerated PSW programs, Supportive Care Assistant programs, online learning options for weekend courses and the creation of even more names to add to the list of 50+ titles used for this class of worker has created the need for a national organization for unregulated care providers (UCPs), a designation used in College of Nurses of Ontario documents that covers all titles and levels of unregulated workers who provide care. That would be a worthwhile investment. 

National initiatives like the Employment and Social Development Canada-funded project to create a framework of occupational standards for this level of worker are a start, but they are under constant pressure to get deliverables out there. I sit on the working group and can tell you first hand that there is a lot of hard work being put into this, but the work often feels incomplete. I mean no disrespect to my peers, but this is an opinion piece and here is an example of a rushed outcome – the title used for PSWs in this national document is currently “personal care provider” (PCP). Yep, the commonly used acronym for angel dust, not a great one to knowingly assign. And the title is not even representative of what this worker does (which is more than personal care).

There is a need for a national association of unregulated care providers in Canada – a professional, national voice like the Canadian Nurses Association in which the focus is to advance the profession with the public interest in mind. Having this type of organization would promote the profession and positively impact recruitment and retention challenges since it would encourage formal UCP leadership. Organizations like OLTCA and AdvantAge Ontario and unions like SEIU, CUPE and OPSEU/SEFPO have spoken up on the need for working conditions to be improved. Having a national, professional organization along with one protected title would be an investment that helps keep the PSW workforce strong.

Retaining employees is critical to the success of the health-care team and to patient outcomes. It’s now time to focus more on retention … Who is listening?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

16 Comments
  • maria leonor Capispisan says:

    Maria leonor Capispisan, GBC PSW
    Thank you, Prof Laura , this article gives people the idea of how PSW worked hard in their profession to provide quality care to their clients and that’s the main reason why PSW should be recognized and be regulated, they should be paid well because PSW deserves that with all the hard work they do.

  • Shanti Panta, PSW Student, George Brown Clooege, Toronto, Ontario says:

    Thank you so much Professor Bloomer for speaking up for us.

  • Tamara Henry, GBC PSW says:

    Personal Support Workers (PSW) have a very important role in the health care system. The fact that they’re not getting paid as well as they should is very upsetting & unfair because they work so hard and perform certain task that many individuals wouldn’t be comfortable with. Laura made some excellent points and made others looking in learn more about how Personal Support Workers (PSW) are being treated.

  • Natasha Hardyal, GBC PSW says:

    This article is an eye opener as to what the real issues are regarding Personal Support Workers. Their time, worth, expertise aren’t being valued and it’s concerning that as a future PSW it makes me wonder where do I stand? Will my voice count? How will my future employers or the government see me and the thousands of Personal Support Workers across the country?

  • Caroline Tachejiian says:

    I applaud your honesty addressing the issues that often fall through the cracks. It’s definitely a band-aid on a bullet wound situation. I understand that there are politicians involved, but why not listen to the voices of those who have been doing the work? I wish there was a safe space where front line PSW’s could share their stories without repercussion (which happens to be one of their Bill of Rights). I hope more join in your advocacy so that we can create that safe space.
    Thank you for your advocacy!

  • Mickelah Rowe GBC PSW says:

    As a student of the GBC I have to agree with your concerns. It is very unacceptable that PSW’s are only getting a temporary raise. PSW’s are so underrated but yet still they are the one’s that spends the most time with the client/patients. This is one of the main reasons why PSW’s changes their career choice to a higher paying jobs.

  • Kamille Moises, GBC PSW says:

    The band-aid approach won’t solve the problem. Concrete plans need to be implemented. To begin with, the government should regulate Personal Support Workers.

  • Dhelzy Dyan Celi GBC - PSW says:

    the government announce before that they guarantee to increase the wage permanent to healthcare workers, but seems like jump to temporary, how about those people who encourage to study PSW because they’re expecting more ? As a PSW student I’m expecting not just the wage increase to be permanent but they need to give us a value to the community. Government needs to implement PSW as a regulated worker not unregulated.

  • Ronan C-112 says:

    Never trust a Conservative to do the right thing when it comes to Health Care or the Environment!

  • Janki Patel - GBC PSW says:

    As PSW student I know that PSW’s play a very crucial role in the health care system as they also provide and help clients with everyday needs (bathing,feeding,dressing etc) yet they are not paid well and respected. I know that the government and has temporarily increased the pay of PSW’s due to the pandemic but what after the pandemic is over?

    • Tess Puntanen GBS PSW says:

      As a PSW student I’m grateful for the grants provided by the government to help fund my schooling, but what happens after I graduate? PSW wages can be very low sometimes. How could such a vital role be so undervalued?

  • Alanna Cole - GBC PSW says:

    As someone who is new to the Health Care world I was saddened to learn after all that Personal Support Workers(PSW) do that they are only having a “temporary pay increase” as this article by Laura Bulmer stats. Depending where a PSW works they may only be making a little over minimum wage, as I have learned in class. If PSW’s are in such a high demand then agencies or higher authorities should recognize this and consider not having this wage increase be temporary but have it be permanent. I know a lot of students in the PSW program are planning to move forward within the Health Care field to other higher paying jobs. If people keep using this as a doorway to just get to the next job there will always be a shortage of PSW workers. If there is incentives for them to stay(fair wages, more support, appropriate working hours, etc.) more people will be happy providing important and meaningful care and this may cause them to reconsider changing fields.

  • Andrea Lok GBC PSW C112 says:

    We’ve always had trouble retaining personal support worker employees and the new measures (grants, etc) seem like a temporary measure just to “pump out” new workers, just so that the government can say “we did invest in creating new PCPs workers” especially in light of the nature of PSWs in a pandemic for long term care.

    Regulations and a proper protected and defined title would go a long way in protecting vulnerable patients and also ensuring the PSW profession is respected.

  • Novia Rhule-Gambiza says:

    It is quiet frustrating that the powers that be can’t see through your eyes. We have gotten to the point where we are reactive instead of planning to make life and situation easier for the clients and even for ourself.

    Being a Personal Support Worker is indeed a life changing experience and more needs to be done to have the best and capable individuals to serve our most vulnerable in society and that comes with being regulated, which will lead to accountability. I find myself asking, why is it a nail bitting issue to have Support Workers regulated? Even-though it is a clear indication that we are apart of the lifeline for the health care team and system.

    Laura you have always stood to fight for support workers and I applaud your dedication in what at times seems like a hopeless fight. Keep pushing forward and thank you for the knowledge you imparted on me during my studies to become a Personal Support Worker.

  • Tracey Ogus says:

    Incredible points Laura. You make complete sense here! I enjoyed listening and I hope enough people listen to put your thoughts in to reality!

    Thanks Laura!

  • jarred alter says:

    What Laura has written in this piece is really understated on the crisis that is going on in the field and on the field that Personal Support Workers (PSW) face everyday in the instititions they work for.
    One huge deficit at Long Term Care Facilities (LTC) is the institutionalized objectification of the staff that are in care of the residents.
    Being in a work enviroment that is not dignified and based in compassionate care of its employees comes at a great cost to the vulnerable people living at the facilities who are entitled as human beings to the best care possible.

    The trickle down effect of being objectified is that the human beings (residents) that are in need of care now become the objects of being negelected.

    Last time I checked in the mirror,
    I didn’t see a thing.
    I saw a living human being.

Author

Laura Bulmer

Contributor

Laura Bulmer is a full-time professor at a Toronto community college and chair of the Canadian Association of Continuing Care Providers (CACCE). She has received the RNAO Best Practice Award for her work in palliative care and is a recipient of the Crystal Apple Teaching Award. She would love to hear your stories and is always looking for fellow PSW advocates to join her on this journey. You can reach her at vanbulmer@hotmail.com.

Republish this article

Republish this article on your website under the creative commons licence.

Learn more