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Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario
483 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5G2C9
Dear Ombudsman Dubé,
Unifor welcomes your decision to investigate the Ministry of Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Health on their oversight of long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a union representing almost 15 thousand long-term care workers (LTC) in the province, I know that the tragedies exposed by the pandemic were a result of systemic problems that have expanded significantly over the last decade and in particular, over the last three years.
Unifor has worked incredibly hard to expose these problems.
In December of 2017, we released a video titled the “Six Minute Challenge” to highlight the mere minutes allotted to a PSW in LTC to provide personal care for each of their assigned residents each morning. The video was shared thousands of times and more importantly, hundreds of Ontarians attempted the impossible six-minute challenge. At that time, there was recognition of a problem by all parties unanimously passing second reading of the Time To Care Act. Unfortunately, the Act, which would have provided a minimum (4 hours) measurable, enforceable standard of care, died with the call of the election in 2018.
In December of 2019, Unifor along with the Ontario Health Coalition released the report “Caring in Crisis; Ontario’s Long-Term Care PSW Shortage.” The report highlighted the severe shortage of PSWs brought about by a number of circumstances. First, the 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 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 these essential workers. Over the last decade, wage increases have not kept up with inflation and even included a two-year wage freeze.
Along with this report, I issued a personal challenge to Premier Ford to spend one shift with me in a LTC home and work with us to fix this problem. At this point, “working short” the insider term for when PSWs can’t be replaced when absent, was a daily occurrence in all homes across the province. This means that instead of caring for 12 residents, they were sometimes caring for 16 or more.
Ultimately, Ontario LTC homes were ill-prepared for a pandemic.
While we can appreciate that there are now some commitments to fix the long-term care system, we believe your investigation will be crucial to ensuring we solidly move in that direction. We know that your investigation will expose these underlying problems and give them the attention they deserve.
Unifor would be pleased to assist in any way possible. We have staff and local union leadership who are familiar with the sector and as well can facilitate discussions with front-line workers, some of whom would have worked in LTC homes with the worst outbreaks.
We also hope you look carefully at the British Columbia example on their handling of the pandemic in long-term care. They acted early to manage care homes, directed managers and other care workers to the front-line, and raised the wages of LTC workers by as much as $7.00 an hour. Their results speak for themselves.
I do want to personally thank you for taking the initiative on this important investigation, and look forward to assisting you in any way possible.