I am constantly amazed at how much humans know and can do in this modern era. Not being satisfied with just normal intelligence, we felt a need to improve on it by creating artificial intelligence. I remember watching the old reruns of Star Trek when Mr. Spock could just ask the computer absolutely anything and he’d receive an instant reply. Oh how I wished, as a lad, that such technology was real.
Now, not only is it real in the form of Google Home, Alexa and Siri, but there are now new and improved variations of the devices – next generation if you will.
I hear that Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google, is desperately seeking the opportunity to create an entirely futuristic, technologically intelligent neighbourhood on the Toronto Waterfront. For example, people will be able to go shopping and pick up their purchases and have the charges automatically applied to their credit card as they just walk out of the store without need of the services of a cashier.
Yet, with all of this incredible intelligence, we can’t seem to figure out a responsible way to provide care for those who really need it in our society. Here I am referring to the dire shortage of Personal Support Workers (PSWs) in Ontario.
PSWs are trained health care providers who perform the daily tasks for people who need assistance due to an illness, injury and aging among a long list of other circumstances. Some PSWs work in long-term care facilities while others work for a service provider visiting patients in their own homes on a rotating schedule as required. PSWs have to successfully complete a certified training program from an accredited college in Ontario.
It is widely known that the population of Canadians above 65 years of age is experiencing an incredible spike in the last decade -- a spike that will continue to grow for a long time to come. Our societal and economic norms in some cases make it necessary for us to hire a PSW to provide varying degrees of care for our loved ones.
But Ontario has a problem meeting the growing demands for care. A recent study showed that private service providers and long-term care facilities are desperately short staffed on virtually every shift. In fact the report indicated that some facilities are working with shortages of one or two PSWs on almost all shifts, and can be short five to ten PSWs in any given 24 hour period.
The job is extremely challenging and demanding – both physically and emotionally. A survey of 1200 PSWs released last March showed a direct link between alarming levels of violence in long-term care facilities and persistent understaffing. After working as a PSW, many workers just can’t take the emotional and physical strain and resign.
To be clear, the workers are well qualified and perform their duties to the best of their ability. Anyone can pick up the slack where there are temporary shortages due to illness or vacation. However, this shortage goes on endlessly meaning that staff and patients suffer. Staff are run off their feet and experience unending frustration because they know their patients’ needs are not being met.
Not only does this shortage affect the quality of life for individuals who need personal support and the work environment for the PSWs, it also is causing a backlog of people taking up beds in acute care facilities because they can’t find a long-term placement. They can’t access a long-term care facility because there is a shortage of workers to take care of the patients’ needs. Here in Algoma-Manitoulin, you wouldn’t believe how many calls we receive from people who can’t get PSW assistance in their own home for short or long-term care because there are not enough to go around. My team finds such cases disheartening and frustrating.
On October 30th, 2019 CBC News pointed out that in several regions of Ontario, the number of people who were stuck in acute care hospital beds waiting for a long-term care tripled in just one year. This leads to hallway medicine. In addition to crowding and feelings of humiliation, the waste of public dollars is staggering. A hospital bed may cost $1,000 per day for someone who doesn’t need that level of service. Compare that to the cost of having a PSW spend just an hour or two helping someone at home a few times each week.
Demand is steadily increasing, yet the Ford government is failing to invest in new long-term care beds or to properly fund the homes we already have. They continue to sit on their hands when it comes to the PSW shortage. No one should have to worry that the needs of their parent or grandparent are being overlooked because hardworking PSWs are too run off their feet to help. A joint Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) /Unifor report states that PSWs are leaving the industry due to demanding working conditions, high rates of injury, abuse and lack of fulltime work. As well, despite the job stress and impossible workload, and the fact it requires education and certification, PSW wages hover around the $20 range -- not far above minimum wage. In the end, workers conclude that the job is just not worth it.
The OHC—Unifor report recommends that the government increase funding to hire more full-time staff with benefits in order to improve resident care. It also recommends implementing realistic patient/worker ratios and the development of a comprehensive staffing strategy for nursing homes.
The Ford government should reverse its $34-million cut to long-term care. New Democrats have twice introduced the Time to Care Act. This legislation would require long-term care homes to provide an average of four hours of hands-on care per resident per day, and put an end to the misery faced by so many families trying to find quality long-term care for their loved ones. But the bill ran out of time under the Liberal Government and Ford’s Conservatives outright killed it.
Like I said, with all the vast gains in terms of intelligence and now even the development of artificial intelligence, the Province of Ontario needs to utilize some of it in resolving the PSW crisis.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député