Ontario announces funds to hire more than 4,000 long-term care workers this year

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TORONTO — Ontario's long-term care operators welcomed provincial funding announced Wednesday to hire more than 4,000 staff within a year but advocates and employees said more must be done to improve working conditions in the sector.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said the province would put aside $270 million to hire 4,050 long-term care workers by the end of next March.

It's part of a previously announced plan by the Progressive Conservative government to hire more workers for the sector, with a goal of getting long-term care residents an average of four hours of direct care per day by 2025.

"This investment will allow all homes to hire and retain the staff they need to increase daily direct care so that we can meet the annual goals set out in our staffing plan," Phillips said at a press conference in Toronto.

The government plans to introduce legislation this fall that would enshrine the four-hour care standard into law, the minister said.

In the short-term, the funding announced Wednesday is expected to increase residents' direct care to three hours per day by next March, Phillips said.

Money will start flowing to the homes next month and the province will audit their expenditures to ensure funds are used properly, he said.

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association welcomed the funding as important to achieving the "historic" commitment of four hours of care per day for each resident.

CEO Donna Duncan said long-term care homes, the government, labour and education groups must work "with urgency" to improve conditions in the sector.

"We must recognize that increasing hours of care in the midst of a longstanding health human resources crisis and critical staff shortages will be challenging," CEO Donna Duncan said in a written statement.

"It will take all of us working together to rebuild and expand our workforce, and our care teams, across the health system to ensure that our existing and future team members feel valued and supported."

AdvantAge Ontario, which represents not-for-profit and municipal homes, also applauded the funding, calling it a "watershed moment" for the sector.

The largest union in the province's long-term care sector said it was pleased with plans to legislate the minimum care standard, but disappointed in the lengthy timeline to reach it.

SEIU Healthcare also criticized the lack of a detailed plan to improve what it called "abhorrent" work conditions in the sector, saying workers need better wages and the stability of full-time positions.

"New trainees and hires are fleeing within days or weeks. This is the real obstacle to fixing long-term care," the union said in a statement.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario also called for better wages for workers, saying many were leaving the sector "faster than we can train and recruit them."

"We will not be able to reach our targets to implement a four-hour care standard without a robust strategy that focuses on making long-term care a sector where people want to work," Ontario union secretary-treasurer Candace Rennick said in a statement.

Phillips was non-committal Wednesday on whether the government would make a temporary $3-wage bump for personal support workers permanent.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said conditions won't improve until that happens.

"Throughout this pandemic, workers in long-term care have risked their lives and put in tireless hours caring for our most vulnerable seniors," she wrote in a statement.

"Yet (Premier) Doug Ford and Rod Phillips refuse to give PSWs the permanent pay raise they deserve and commit to ensuring their jobs are full-time."

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also called for permanent wage increases and access to mental health care for the workers.

Wednesday's announcement came after the province mandated COVID-19 vaccination for workers in the sector that has been hit hard by outbreaks and deaths during the pandemic. Long-term care residents have represented more than a third of the province's deaths from COVID-19.

In-home staff, support workers, students and volunteers in long-term care must be vaccinated by Nov. 15 unless they have a valid medical exemption.

The government had resisted implementing the policy – issued their own mandates for staff – but Phillips said last week that it had become clear that staff vaccination rates would be insufficient without it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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