Anyone paying attention has heard about the severe shortage of nurses and health-care professionals plaguing every part of the province. While the focus has been on closures and cuts to hospital services, no one should forget that nurses and health-care professionals work in every sector of health care, including our beleaguered long-term care (LTC) system.
As President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), I hear daily from our members who work in long-term care and tell me of their fear for their residents’ care and safety, all while trying to do their best to provide that care.
The plain truth is that long-term care homes have lacked sufficient staffing since before the pandemic. Now, the situation is worse; there are simply not enough nurses and health-care staff for our residents.
For more than 20 years, Ontario’s long-term care system has been gravely underfunded and understaffed. During this period, Ontarians’ life expectancy has increased; while that is good news, it has meant that patients arrive at long-term care homes with a long list of acute medical needs. They need the skills that registered nurses provide to manage their medical conditions and provide them with a high-quality life. Yet RN staffing has remained abysmally minimal.
The plain truth is that long-term care homes have lacked sufficient staffing since before the pandemic. Now, the situation is worse.
The first six waves of COVID-19 have already killed more than 4,700 long-term care residents; tens of thousands more have been infected, and this continues now.
Government’s utter failure to protect the residents and staff in long-term care homes is tragic. Worse, it was preventable.
ONA has been urging governments for decades to make significant improvements. We have solutions, including improving working conditions to retain experienced nurses. Creating more full-time positions is a must. Work in LTC is a messy patchwork of casual and part-time shifts, with nurses having to piece together several part-time LTC jobs to make ends meet. Full-time nursing positions would begin to stabilize the workforce while enhancing resident care. Legally, only one RN is required to be on duty at any given time within a home. The Long-Term Care Homes Act should be amended to increase the minimum number of RNs present, depending on the size of the home and the number of residents. One RN looking after dozens of residents at any one time is not safe.
Acting to fix core issues in long-term care will go a long way to attracting and retaining nurses.
Now is the time for Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Long-Term Care Paul Calandra to act on behalf of all residents and clients. After all the unnecessary suffering and death in these homes, it is past time to act and improve long-term care.
Ontario’s nurses want to be there to provide quality care to our residents. We know how to fix the long-term care system and how to make it easier to do just that. But we need the political will and commitment to make it happen.