Staffing in LTC ‘deteriorating to a point that’s terrifying’ in Ontario

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The Ontario Health Coalition says the conditions in long term care is “deteriorating to a point that is terrifying.”

The coalition gathered advocates including unions such as the Ontario Nurses Association and CUPE, families with loved ones in long term care and workers Friday to talk about impact of the Omicron wave of COVID-19.

“To call situation a crisis is not an overstatement,” says Natalie Mehra of the coalition noting there are nearly 336 long term care homes – including eight in Lambton County – and over 270 retirement homes in outbreak. There are also about 200 outbreaks in Ontario’s hospitals including two at Bluewater Health.

Over 6,200 long term care residents and staff are COVID-19 positive today and 13 people died because of the virus yesterday.

“In a number of facilities, we’re seeing the lowest staffing levels we’ve ever seen,” says Mehra. “We’re not on the cusp of a health care crisis, we’re in a health care crisis.”

Cheri Sorenson, a personal support worker in long term care, says residents aren’t being bathed or having their teeth brushed because the workers don’t have time.

“It’s just incredible how they’re not being taken care of.

“We know at the end of the day were not doing the work were supposed to be doing,” says Sorenson. “We have all just had enough, some of us have said we want to leave but we can’t – we’re all they have.”

Sandra Coleta lost her mother in a previous wave of COVID-19 and is now an advocate for long term care home reform. She’s angry. “We’re sitting here two years later and we’re seeing the same mistakes happen,” Coleta says adding family members want to help but in many cases are being shut out of homes. “We know families can come in safely, we know staff needs our backup.

“All the lives that were lost in long term care were lost in vain.”

Mehra calls the current crisis “a total failure of leadership” and the coalition wants to “get some actual action that would actually improve things and saves people’s lives.”

The situation is also tough in health care where the vice president of the Ontario Nurses Association says nurses have to triage their tasks because there simply isn’t enough staff to care for all the patients.

“They’re going to work crying because they know they can’t give the care they need,” says Angela Precanin.

The health coalition is calling on the province to urgently address the problems including calling in the military to help provide care, set up rapid response teams and a voluntary human resource deployment system to get people into long term care homes and hospitals to help.

Mehra adds all health care workers and essential care givers N95 masks and remove the barriers for internationally educated nurses and health care workers to allow them to start working immediately.

They also want clear reporting on the number of people actually providing care in long term care homes and hospitals.

Mehra is looking for action from the province this week and warns health care professionals will continue pushing the issue with Premier Doug Ford. “We’re not letting you off the hook. You don’t get to do PR announcements and do nothing to address the actual health care crisis.”

Meantime, Rod Phillips, the minister of long term care, announced yesterday he will be retiring from politics and will step down as long term care minister at the end of the month.

Paul Callandra, minister of legislative affairs and government house leader, will take on the long term care ministry as well. That’s being met with disbelief, with advocates concerned he will be a “part-time” minister when the COVID-19 crisis is worsening. They also point to an article in 2014 which outlined a family dispute where the minister was accused of stealing money from his elderly mother by family members.