"Shocking," "appalling," "offensive" and "disappointing" are just some of the words critics are using to describe the Ontario government's latest plan to train personal support workers (PSWs) in the province.
On Monday, the ministers of long-term care and labour, training and skills development announced details of the $4.1-million plan to recruit and train 373 new PSWs across Ontario.
But both the Ontario Health Coalition and the Canadian Union of Public Employees say more than 20,000 PSWs are actually needed right now, mainly in the long-term care sector. They're dismissing the province's investment as completely inadequate.
"Their lethargy is profound ... delaying training and recruitment. In the meantime nearly 4,000 residents have died in long-term care in the last year," said Candace Rennick, secretary-treasurer at CUPE Ontario. "Ontario must roll out a robust training strategy at every public college across the province. Tuition should be waived and people should be offered some compensation to take the training."
Among the projects announced on Monday, Ottawa's Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre's program hopes to recruit 120 PSWs. It will target people who have a difficult time integrating into the workforce, including people with disabilities, who are underemployed or are new to Canada. This certification program, run in partnership with two private career colleges, is getting $1,991,120 in government money.
In addition, the Pathway2PSW project in Lanark and Renfrew Counties will get close to $1 million to prepare 60 participants through formal health-care training and virtual reality learning.
The government named six other projects across the province.
"Working closely with our colleges and other important health care training partners, we can help many people prepare for new and rewarding careers, while solving a decades long problem, which is a shortage of PSWs in Ontario," said Labour, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton.
As of Monday, 129 long-term care homes in Ontario were experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. The vast majority of cases at those homes involve staff. To date, 3,734 nursing home residents and 11 workers in Ontario have died of the illness since the pandemic began last year.
"We're incredulous," said Nathalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. "We lost about one in three in the first wave. Care levels have never been so low, and we've been doing this for 25 years.... [Residents'] basic medical needs and living needs are not being met ... so [recruiting] 373 staff is just appalling. It's shocking."
Training is only one part of the needed reform, according to Rennick, who noted that working conditions also need to be addressed.
For years, unions and other health-care advocates have been lobbying for four hours of care per day per resident. Last October, the provincial government did agree to establish a new standard of care for long-term care homes,
giving residents an average of four hours of direct care every day, but that protocol won't be in place until 2024–25.
"The crisis at the bedside is getting worse. Further delays are nothing but negligent. We need to finally acknowledge that working conditions are care conditions," said Rennick.