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Virtual town hall hosted to discuss issues in long-term care


by Sylene Argent

Implementing a lower ratio of residents to PSWs and nursing staff, and the desire to end for-profit homes, were key focus points during last Wednesday’s virtual town hall meeting, hosted to discuss long-term care and issues surrounding the current model.

  Essex MPP Taras Natyshak, Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky, and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield – all members of the NDP – hosted the meeting with former Essex NDP MP Tracey Ramsey, who is now the Co-Chairperson of the Windsor Ontario Health Coalition, and Shelley Smith, who spent nearly 30-years as a Healthcare Aide, and it now the Second Vice President of UNIFOR 2458.

  Hatfield said too many residents in long-term care facilities have died during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The system is broken and we are here tonight to talk about that,” he said, adding he has been hearing from his constituents about the lack of standards in long-term care homes.

  The families who have lost a loved one during the pandemic, deserve a public inquiry into the long-term care system, Hatfield continued. Gretzky added this would be to ensure anything that comes forward is actionable, with issues not just being swept under the rug.  

  “We need more homes, a lot more homes, and they should be not-for-profit homes. And, they should be staffed by support staff,” Hatfield said, noting if staff members can be brought on fulltime, they would not have to work at two or three homes. “They should be paid more, they should receive benefits, and your loved ones should be kept in smaller quadrants, smaller homes – not institutions.”

  For many, this will be the last bedroom they will occupy on earth, Hatfield continued. “It should be a good home, and they should live in dignity, and they should be treated well and fed well and their health care looked after.”

   Gretzky added home care and long-term care are closely intertwined. What is needed is a government, which she said has not happened yet through Liberal or Conservative leadership, to investment in home care for people. This would be to keep individuals out of the hospital and long-term care.

  For around six-months now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents in long-term care facilities have not have access to their caregivers, their family members, in most cases. The Provincial government has no plan to ensure these families can get in and see their loved one in a long-term care home in a meaningful way, she said.   

  In response, Gretzky said she tabled a motion on July 20 to have residents and essential caregivers at the table to talk about what a safe re-entry should look like.

  She added there are not just seniors in long-term care homes, there are many young people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, “Which is not appropriate, but with a 25-plus year backlog for support of housing, often this is the only place for them to go, or they land in hospital,” she said.

  “All of these long-standing issues, it is not new just because of a pandemic. This really just shone the light on what the workers from within the long-term care homes have been saying for many, many years now,” Gretzky added.

  Natyshak, who hosted the meeting, urged that pressure needs to be kept on the government to reunite families.

  Smith said what she is hearing is that workers are full of anxiety and afraid to go to work.

  “Workers are working in conditions that are worse than pre-COVID. I mean, there were issues prior to COVID, there were shortage of staff prior to COVID. COVID has just brought a new light to long-term care. They are working numerous hours, working overtime, working endlessly to provide care to the loved ones…and, at the end of the day, with all these constrictions and the orders that have come down, you know, they can’t even get a proper vacation.”

  Smith added that vacation time is important to workers, because they need to enjoy time away from work and spend time with their families, and return in fit mind and body.

  “I have had workers say to me, ‘why isn’t my life valued?’” She said it is disheartening to hear some workers feel that way.

  Some of the ways this situation can be made better, Smith said, include increasing the number of PSWs, which she said was an issue prior to the pandemic. “We need to know how we are going to bring them back.

  “Long-term care is not long-term care anymore, it’s a psychogeriatric, chronic hospital, and a hospital has a ratio of staff to patients. And that is a definite need in long-term care,” she said, adding employers need to be held accountable for that. She also believes education is important as more mental health needs are coming into long-term care. Staff needs to be able to provide support to those residents.

  Better wages for long-term workers, she said, is also needed.   

  Ramsey added back in December, the Windsor Ontario Health Coalition joined partners at Queen’s Park to present a report that noted long-term care was in deep crisis. A few months later, there was a pandemic. “We go from basically having cracks, to shattering an entire system.” She added workers were seen going into work in a garbage bag as in some cases proper PPE was not available.

  “We end up having 8000 staff and residents that become affected in Ontario, and we lost 1900 people, workers and residents. And the infections continue,” Ramsey said, adding what the Health Coalition did during the pandemic was met weekly, and report on what was happening with the pubic health units. She said there were glaring differences across the Province between public health units and how they addressed the pandemic. She said the Health Coalition also tried to help workers and families.

  “This just continues to be a fight up against these greedy corporations and a government who is just more concerned about their bottom line than they are about caring for residents and caring for staff,” Ramsey said.

  Conditions in long-term care has not changed very much from the height of the pandemic to where they are at now, Ramey claimed. She said there is late and rushed care because there is a severe shortage of staff, there is not even enough time to feed and hydrate residents, and rehab is not being conducted in some cases.

  “The Health Coalition will continue to expose the truth and will keep fighting for the care Ontarians deserve,” she said.

  Throughout the panel, the hosts reiterated the importance of Ontarians speaking up about this issue, and the need to continue to push for positive change.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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