Nursing homes should be a safe place to live and work.
In a perfect world, this would go without saying. But in Ontario today, the ratios of staff to residents is simply too high to provide safe care with dignity.
On a day shift, one personal support worker can be responsible for the care of as many as a dozen residents. A nurse can be assigned monitoring, medications and treatments for as many as 50 residents. On other shifts those ratios easily double.
That means that they work against the clock.
Last year thousands of people took the #6minchallenge, highlighting the amount of time a PSW had to get each resident up and prepared for breakfast. Unifor asked individuals to set the timer when they woke up, and see what they could do in six minutes. There were no winners.
There are other factors that make the situation even more dangerous.
- Ontario is experiencing a critical shortage of PSW’s exacerbated by the impossible work expectations; less people are entering this profession, and more are leaving. Working short is a daily event, creating even higher ratios.
- Resident acuity has increased dramatically. In fact people as young as 18 with complex needs now call a long-term care facility home. The mix of vulnerable frail seniors with younger stronger patients who often have complex mental health issues has made for a dangerous environment. There are not enough staff to prevent resident on resident violence.
- Front line care-givers experience verbal, sexual and physical violence regularly. This is at best, ignored by employers and at worst normalized as a job expectation.
- Most nursing home beds are operated by for-profit corporations, squeezing out homes that were run by charitable organizations or municipalities. Dollars that would be directed to care, now go to shareholders.
- PSW wages rose only 7% over the last seven years, well behind the rate of inflation. In many cases this means that they work a second job, simply to make ends meet.
But there are solutions.
In late 2017, MPP’s of every political stripe passed the Time To Care Act through second reading. This Bill would have delivered four hours of care to every resident, every day. This minimum, measurable, enforceable standard of care would ensure that staff to resident ratio’s are reduced to allow for safe care.
The Conservatives who voted for this Bill have forgotten that commitment. They talk about building more beds and refurbishing older homes, but this is simply giving their corporate friends handouts. For-profit corporations are given millions of tax dollars to build nursing homes, that in turn become assets of their business.
And ultimately, new beds are not enough.
The conditions of work are the conditions of care.
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