Workers, unions and families gathered in Almonte, Ont., Thursday to call for immediate action by the Ford government to recruit staff and to improve working conditions in Ontario's long-term care homes.
Amy Ayers, a personal support worker at Almonte Country Haven who helped organize the day of action, has been at the long-term care facility throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and she even contracted the virus herself last spring.
"What we're doing here is coming out to make people who are unaware, aware of the crisis in long-term care centres," said Ayers.
Similar protests happened in more than 20 municipalities across Ontario.
Last spring, 72 of 82 residents, along with several staff members at Almonte Country Haven, tested positive for COVID-19. There are currently no cases in the long-term care home right now.
"I'm kind of coming out of my shell to speak up about the very damaged system and I hear a lot from coworkers, other PSWs ... they're afraid to come out, talk and stand up for what they believe is right. So I'm here to say, it's OK," said Ayers.
More needs to be done
The Ontario Health Coalition said the problems include understaffing, testing backlogs, sharing of four-person rooms, and insufficient infection control provisions. It's calling for a minimum daily standard of four hours of hands-on care for every resident.
Ayers says a lot of lessons have been learned, but more is needed across the care system.
"Number one would be more staffing per ratio of residents. With that we can give more quality of care," said Ayers. "Our elderly in long term care deserve better. They deserve to have top notch care. I can't stress that part enough."
Mae Wilson lived at Almonte Country Haven for four years until she died of COVID-19 in May.
Her daughter, Karen Thompson, attended the day of action with her own signs and ideas about how the system can be improved now.
"We have to make the system better. We're going into the second wave, and we haven't really done a thing to make it better," said Thompson.
Patient ombudsman report
The day of action for long term care in Ontario happened on the same day as the province's patient ombudsman released a report.
The report details complaints about the safety of residents and staff and points to a crisis in the province's long-term care homes.
At Queen's Park on Thursday, Ontario's minister of long-term care, Merilee Fullerton was asked when changes in nursing homes can be expected.
"Staffing is a priority and our government is putting dollars behind that as we speak," said Fullerton in the legislature.
Karen Thompson hopes the system improves but she is worried that the government doesn't have an accurate account of what's going on inside many care homes because workers like Amy Ayers who speak out, are rare.
"Everyone clams up. I know a lot of the PSWs. They say everything is fine. They just can't talk. They're afraid to say stuff and then get in trouble later and get fired," said Thompson.