Health care and front-line workers could be key to hotly contested Ottawa West-Nepean

·4 min read
The recruitment, compensation and retention of health-care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and home care settings may be a ballot-box question for many voters in Ottawa West-Nepean. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The recruitment, compensation and retention of health-care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and home care settings may be a ballot-box question for many voters in Ottawa West-Nepean. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

With an aging population and a large portion of the riding employed in the health-care sector, Ottawa West-Nepean voters could cast their ballots with health — and especially elder care — at the top of their minds.

Suzanne Barnett, a retired nurse who was visiting Britannia Beach with her former colleagues, said four of the five of them had recently lost their family doctors and had struggled to get a new one.

"That is the most important thing for me right now: health care, not highways," said Barnett, who used to work at The Royal, Ottawa's mental health centre.

The five friends also spoke of, among other things, the Progressive Conservative's Bill 124 that capped public sector wages, including for nurses.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

"There [are] not enough nurses. They're leaving. They've burnt out since COVID. They're not making enough money," Barnett said.

She said she also wants to see improvement to the long-term care sector, which she said was ill-prepared for the pandemic.

Ottawa West-Nepean is expected to be a hotly contested riding in the June 2 provincial election. In 2018, Progressive Conservative Jeremy Roberts defeated his closest rival, the NDP's Chandra Pasma, by just 175 votes — unseating the incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Bob Chiarelli.

Roberts and Pasma are running again, with new candidates representing the other two major parties — Sam Bhalesar for the Liberals and Steven Warren for the Greens.

CBC News spoke to voters in the riding who also want to see provincial candidates address affordability, education and child care.

The riding is home to one of the city's older populations and a large share of residents are employed in the health and social services sector, suggesting medical and elder care will be a major focus for voters.

WATCH | Voters hope government tackles these issues:

Katherine Ross, a nurse supervisor with Carefor Health & Community Services, lives in the riding.

She said Carefor already provides services to many residents in the area, both at home and at their Carling Avenue clinic, but said the people working in her field are underappreciated.

"The [patient load is] increasing and yet the workforce is decreasing," Ross said.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

She said the responsibilities of home care nurses have expanded to provide more complex procedures — including chemotherapy and palliative treatments — but those expanded responsibilities haven't been recognized.

"The wage disparity between the hospitals and home care, it doesn't make it attractive."

While home care policies are touted as a way to keep people out of long-term care facilities, people with complex care such as dementia may require around-the-clock care.

Ottawa West-Nepean is also home to several retirement and long-term care facilities, such as the privately owned Revera Carlingview Manor and the city-run Peter D. Clark Centre.

LTC changes needed

CARP Ottawa, the local chapter of the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, is in the midst of a campaign called Change LTC Now. It calls for provincial parties to support the restructuring of long-term care homes.

"The issue is if something isn't done now, while people finally understand what the problems are, people will forget," said Kathy Wright with CARP Ottawa.

Olivier Plante/CBC
Olivier Plante/CBC

Wright said the goal is to move from "task-based" to "emotion-based" care, which creates a smaller, family-like community in residences and involves all staff providing support.

"When you think about it, we're talking about creating a home," she said.

While the Ontario NDP, Liberals and Greens have all vowed to change the ownership model to remove for-profit enterprises, Wright said she's less concerned about who owns a facility and more focused on regulations and accountability.

Candidates respond

Pasma said the NDP wants to make both home care and long-term care non-profit, so money that would otherwise go to shareholders is invested in improving quality set by new regulatory standards. The party platform includes $1 billion toward home care.

"We believe all that money should be going to care, so we provide the best level of care to seniors and persons living with disabilities," she said.

WATCH | NDP candidate says expanding home care a priority:

Liberal candidate Bhalesar has both personal support workers and nurses in her home, where she cares for her mother. She said her party's plan would expand home care to 400,000 more seniors and increase personal support worker (PSW) pay to $25 an hour.

"We're going to have some sort of collapse in the future if we don't do the right things now," Bhalesar said.

Green candidate Warren, whose mother is a nurse, said health care is a clear priority in the riding and his party also supports increasing wages to $25 an hour for PSWs.

The Green Party platform includes a nurse-led task force on recruitment, retention and safety for nurses.

WATCH | Green candidate wants autistic representation in Queen's Park:

The PC party said Roberts was not available for an interview and didn't respond to questions for this story.

Prior to the election, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced a billion dollars toward expanding home care services over the next three years.

The Ford government also announced it was hiring more long-term care staff, creating new spaces and increasing time spent on direct care to four hours.

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