This week, Unifor Local 673 organized an appreciation luncheon for frontline health care workers at the Downsview Long-term Care Centre. The event was one of many held across the country by Unifor locals to recognize the hard work and difficult circumstances many in the long-term care sector face during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In all, Unifor Local 673 members provided lunch for 170 workers at the Downsview LTC Centre.
“It’s a small gesture, but an important one. What frontline health care workers have been going through over the past several months is nothing short of unbearable. We wanted to show solidarity with frontline health care workers in a way that gives them some much needed nourishment and recognition for what they’re going through,” said Maryellen McIlmoyle, Unifor Local 673 President. “Our union will always be here to help out those in our community who are going through hard times. PSWs were already facing so many hardships before this pandemic hit and now many have lost colleagues. That takes a huge toll. We have to be there for each other in these hard times and that’s exactly what we’re doing here at Downsview LTC.”
Personal support workers (PSWs) live tough lives.
They’re consistently overworked, underpaid, and often unappreciated beyond the residents and their families they take care of and interact with. Many have been forced to work multiple jobs work at different facilities just to make ends meet.
It’s often a thankless job that requires tremendous sacrifice with gruelingly long hours. It also takes extraordinary selflessness and dedication to take care of those who can’t care for themselves. The sector has seen hundreds if not thousands of health care workers unable to cope with the poor working conditions leave their jobs behind in search of better work elsewhere.
Facilities have been short-staffed for years. Government deregulation and profit-hungry privatization are the main culprits for the sector’s deteriorating working and care conditions. It’s no wonder that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the situation moved from unbearable to full-blown catastrophe.
The Downsview Long-term Care Centre was among the worst hit facilities in Ontario where frontline health care workers have been battling the novel coronavirus outbreak since April when Downsview’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed.
The facility was later placed under government-ordered hospital management at the end of May though it was revealed that the government waited nearly one month before taking any action. The employer reported the dire situation to the Ford government and requested government intervention as early as April 24.
As of June 22, a total of 64 residents and one personal support worker have died. The Downsview facility’s management reports it no longer has any residents with COVID-19 but 24 staff members are still recovering from the deadly disease.
“Unifor has been at the forefront of advocating for all frontline health care workers for years, drawing attention to the problems of privatization and deregulation have created especially in the long-term care sector,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “It’s not enough for the Ford government to say he’ll investigate the system, the response, and the loss of life. There must be accountability and, above all, change. For decades, governments have failed to tackle this problem of how we adequately care for our seniors and fund a system that ensures working conditions are safe and sustainable.”
Unifor, in partnership with the Ontario Health Coalition commissioned a report on the shortage of PSWs in Ontario. The report was put together over the course of four months, throughout 2019.
“We’ve been on top of the crisis shortage of PSWs in Ontario for years. Most recently, we called the government’s attention to many of the problems drawn out by the COVID-19 pandemic and tried to get them addressed late last year. Who knows how much more prepared we might have been had they listened and taken action before the pandemic hit? We might have been more prepared and possibly saved some lives in the process,” Dias added.
As part of the report’s preparation, a total of eight roundtables were held across Ontario to gather information and develop recommendations for the government to begin addressing the province’s shortage of PSWs. More than 350 long-term care human resource managers, administrators, directors, owners, legal staff, union representatives, PSWs, family council members, college PSW program staff, municipal councillors, advocates for the elderly and local health coalitions participated.