Province pours $540 million into long term care for staffing, personal protective equipment

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Visitors will be limited in areas where COVID-19 cases are high but essential caregivers will continue to be bedside with seniors

The provincial government will spend $540 million in long term care to help ease some of the concerns as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hits Ontario. But its in the face of concerns from unions and long term care operators that the province has acted too slowly.

The lion’s share of the cash – $405 million – will got to help homes with staffing and containment measures at existing homes. Premier Doug Ford says the cash will also buy two months of personal protective equipment for all long term care homes in the province.

Another $64.1 million will go for ventilation and isolation in homes. There will be also $30 million for more infection control staff and to train existing staff.

Ford faced questions on the timing of the funding including why the province didn’t try to recruit 3,700 more personal support workers in long term care weeks ago. Unions, seniors advocates and long term care operators have recently sounded alarm bells saying long term care is not ready to face the second wave.

Ford says the province is “throwing every measure we can” at the issue and says there is only 78 of the 78,000 long term care population with the virus today.

“We made tremendous amount of advancements in long term care, the numbers speak for themselves. We’ve come a long way…we’ve been moving around the clock on this.”

But Smokey Thomas, the head of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, called for more action on getting personal support workers into long term care.

“We need more personal support workers (PSWs), and we need them as quickly as possible,” said Thomas in a news release. “It’s time for the Premier to offer full tuition support for PSWs through our community colleges. It’s time to get an army of trained and certified PSWs out on the front lines of this pandemic.”

Earlier this month, the operators of the province’s long-term care homes said they were suffering severe staffing shortages and issued urgent calls for the government to help recruit and train more PSWs.

The premier also announced some restrictions on visitors in areas like Toronto, Ottawa and Peel which have 80 per cent of the province’s cases. Ford says essential caregivers – usually family members – are encouraged to stay at the bedside to help their loved ones.

The Long Term Care Minister, Merilee Fullerton, added families should have the names of the two essential care givers in writing so they can continue entering the home even during outbreaks.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, added the province will soon be outlining the reasoning behind labeling a community as a hot spot where more restrictions would be imposed.

The new investments include:

  • $405 million to help homes with operating pressures related to COVID-19, including infection prevention and containment measures, staffing supports, and purchasing additional supplies and PPE;
  • $61.4 million for minor capital repairs and renovations in homes to improve infection prevention and control. These repairs and renovations may include minor upgrades to support physical distancing, plumbing or water supply cleaning, updating HVAC systems, or repairing or replacing furniture and equipment that cannot be fully cleaned;
  • $40 million to support homes that have been impacted by the changes in occupancy numbers due to COVID-19. As the sector has been directed to stop admissions of third and fourth residents to larger rooms, a key source of income for each operator will be impacted. This funding will help stabilize the homes through the transition to lower occupancy rooms;
  • $30 million to allow long-term care homes to hire more infection prevention and c ontrol staffing, including $20 million for additional personnel and $10 million to fund training for new and existing staff. This new funding will enable homes to hire over 150 new staff;
  • $2.8 million to extend the High Wage Transition Fund to ensure that gaps in long-term care staffing can continue to be addressed during the pandemic;
  • Provide all long-term care homes with access to up to eight weeks of supply of PPE so they are prepared in case of outbreaks. This supply will be available starting the week of October 5, 2020. The province will also continue to deliver PPE within 24 hours of urgent requests;
  • The government continues to look at innovative solutions to provide more care where and when people need it. Through the skills of community paramedics and working with municipal partners, the government will be making an investment to help people on the long-term care waitlist stay in their own homes longer.