Staffing remains “very precarious” in long term care as COVID-19 concerns ease

Meadowview Villa, Petrolia

Heather Wright/The Independent

Even though the concerns of COVID-19 are easing, Connie Moore has seen first hand there are still major staffing problems in long term care. And she wants politicians at all levels to find solutions quickly.

The Petrolia woman walked into Meadowview Villa in Petrolia one July afternoon to spend time with her husband. One of his favourite personal support workers was on her way out after a shift. Moore could sense the tension.

“I could tell by the look in her eyes that there was something wrong…She warned me they were short staffed. In fact, many were on stress leave…The afternoon shift that was coming on was a staff of one…This one PSW was to look after 21 residents by herself.”

As she stayed with her husband she saw a registered practical nurse help out however she had 40 people to attend to on her own. A resident care assistant also came in to help at dinner.

Moore, in a letter to politicians, says long term care homes are always under staffed, however this July 2 shift was enough to make her write a letter to let them know what life inside a long term care home really looks like.

Jane Joris, the general manager of Long Term Care for Lambton County which owns Meadowview, confirms there was just one PSW on that day with staff being pulled from other areas. Joris says normally two PSW work in the evening hours taking care of half of one floor – 21 people in all.

Joris says there are often staffing issues.

“It’s very precarious – I’m not going to lie about that. We’re losing staff….We’re having people leave to work at the hospital, we’re having people leave to work at the staffing agencies…We have nursing students working as PSW for the summer but we’re almost into August now and we need to hire. We are constantly hiring staff. We hire them and they leave to go to other sectors,” says Joris.

And she says long time workers are on leave from the stress of working through the pandemic or they are still without child care. Others are taking vacations for the first time since 2019.

Joris doesn’t see it getting any better anytime soon. While the province has promised to increase staffing to provide four hours of care per resident in 2024, there is no plan yet for what that will look like. The $3 an hour pandemic pay is about to run out. And RPNs are “leaving in droves” because the pandemic pay increase doesn’t apply to them so now they are being paid less than PSWs.

Joris says the staffing shortages will likely lead to Lambton using staffing agencies to fill the gaps. But that poses problems too.

“Having many different people care for you, when you move into a home, it takes a long time for that relationship to develop. And if you have too many people providing care to that person, nobody ever gets to get that information.

“If you don’t know people and know their routines and know their preferences, you can provide care but it might not be the very best care.”

Staffing – or the lack of it – has been pinpointed by the Ontario Long Term Care Commission as one of the big problems which led to COVID-19 ravaging long term care homes. One of the recommendations was to make more of the part-time staff permanent so care will be person centered. It’s a recommendation Lambton is working on for its homes, but Joris says it’s a difficult task.

And she says it’s only part of the solution. Joris says smaller homes where staff is constant, like the small home initiative Lambton plans for people with dementia, would provide better care.

Lambton County Warden Kevin Marriott says most politicians recognize there is a need to improve care – although he rarely hears from families of residents who are concerned.
Marriott says the county could increase funding for care, however it already pays for the cost of building and some of the costs of running the homes. Lambton’s long term care budget is $8 million yearly. And that doesn’t take into account the coming crunch for more beds as baby boomers need care.

While more beds are needed, Joris is concerned the province is forgetting with new homes, there will need to be staff. “I’m afraid that our province’s thinking is to fix long term care, we just have to build more beds and keep doing things the same way we are. And I think there’s better ways.”

Moore just wants someone to do something. “Please, can you start to do something more than just talk…our dedicated staff need help now.”