June 29, 2020
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, PC MP
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
Re: Federal Government Oversight of Long-Term Care
Unifor welcomed your recent comments signifying that the federal government will involve itself in health/long-term care facilities and its regulatory system.
Among Unifor’s diverse membership, we proudly represent more than 17,000 front-line workers in long-term care across Canada with large segments in Ontario and Nova Scotia.
We have clearly understood that the system, particularly in Ontario, has been in crisis for some time. We know that the human health tragedies brought on by the pandemic exposed many of the underlying problems of the health care system. These systemic issues of chronic underfunding, introduction of for-profit management, and inadequate regulation have grown significantly over the last decade and accelerated over the last three years.
Canada’s COVID-19 response in long-term care, especially to the outbreaks in Ontario and Quebec, was a failure with tragic results.
To prevent such losses of human life from ever occurring again the federal government must take a solid leadership role and apply consistent federal regulations through the Canada Health Act. Unifor welcomes your commitment to do what is necessary, take action in this vital part of Canada’s health care system, and look forward to providing our organization’s expertise in this area.
Unifor has worked hard to gather information and expose the crisis in our long-term care facilities with a series of public campaigns, public hearings and reports. In December of 2017, we engaged in a public awareness campaign that encouraged the public to participate in a “Six Minute Challenge.” The campaign highlighted the appalling working conditions of Personal Support Workers (PSWs) who have mere minutes to provide personal care for their residents each morning. The challenge was shared thousands of times and more importantly, hundreds of Canadians participated. The campaign culminated in the Ontario Time To Care Act passing second reading unanimously. Unfortunately, the Act, which would have provided long-term care residents with a minimum four hours of care daily, died when the 2018 election was called.
In December of 2019, Unifor along with the Ontario Health Coalition released the report “Caring in Crisis; Ontario’s Long-Term Care PSW Shortage.”
This report outlined the circumstances that brought about the severe shortage of PSWs in Ontario and proposed measures to fix the situation. First, the report outlined how work expectations had become completely unmanageable, with one PSW expected to provide care for a dozen or more residents. Many PSWs were simply leaving the profession altogether, sometimes even leaving before completing their first shift. Work offered to PSWs is generally part-time or casual, and multiple jobs are necessary to earn even a basic living. Added to this, wages have been patterned off of an arbitration system that has not been kind to long-term care workers. Over the last eight years, wage increases have severely lagged behind inflation and were subject to a two-year freeze.
Upon the report’s release, I personally issued a challenge to Ontario Premier Doug Ford to spend one eight-hour shift with me in a long-term care home to see the problems for himself and work with our union and its members to finally address this crisis. Among the many problems our union wanted the Premier to understand was that of PSWs who “work short,” a term for when a PSW cannot be replaced when absent. This problem occurs regularly in homes across the province. When PSWs “work short,” rather than caring for 12 residents daily, they often have to care for 16 residents or more.
All of the issues Unifor identified with our long-term care system, meant most facilities were ill prepared for a pandemic. So far, many provincial governments have committed to fix the long-term care system, but Unifor believes federal oversight will be crucial to ensuring we solidly move in that direction.
As a union that represents thousands of frontline health care workers in long-term care facilities, Unifor is an important partner and stakeholder in the sector. We have staff and local union leadership who are familiar with the sector’s issues and can facilitate discourse with frontline workers, many of whom worked in the homes hardest hit by the pandemic. Spending a shift in a nursing home is likely an impossibility now, so hearing from front-line workers is more important than ever.
I do want to personally thank you for your recognition of the problems afflicting our long-term care system and committing to fix them. This is a major challenge and I deeply share your concern as do so many other Canadians. I look forward to further dialogue with you as you work with the provinces to fix long-term care. Unifor understands that, coming out of this pandemic, we need to build back better. Our seniors deserve it and so do Canada’s frontline health care workers.
Jerry Dias, Unifor National President
Copy: The Honourable Deb Schulte, Minister of Seniors, The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health