Op-Ed: Crisis in Long Term Care

For Immediate Release - May 29, 2020

This phrase sounds so immediate and current, but this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about or written about this…the only difference is this time it’s a crisis in the whole health care system across the country.

For well over a decade, unions been sounding the alarm about understaffing in health care; our members have talked about one Continuing Care Assistant (CCA) on shift providing care for 24 residents; or having to feed eight residents in a short time span; or not being able to provide a resident their weekly bath for three full weeks due to staffing shortages.

There is no time to answer questions or to reassure a resident; no time to sit for a break and sometimes not enough time to go pee.

Running to provide care isn’t a catch phrase, it’s a way of life for health care staff.

When health care workers have raised these kinds of issues with managers, they shrug their shoulders because their hands are tied with budgets; they KNOW that we need more staff, but they can’t get more staff. 

When we talk to politicians about these kinds of issues, they appear shocked! Outraged! How can this happen? But ultimately they do nothing that actually results in real investment in hands on care.

Instead of pouring dollars into another study that is ultimately ignored or into LEAN projects, they could have chosen to listen to front line health care workers who have been offering the secret to compassionate, quality, and dignified care: more staff and better wages to keep and attract new staff to the sector.

But they choose to ignore invitations to walk a day in health care provider’s shoes; they refuse to meet with front line health care workers; they condone their representatives to walk away from bargaining tables; and they get other government Ministers to create a form letter to reply to correspondence from health care workers.

Passing the buck, pretending things are okay, and ignoring facts doesn’t solve any problems. It creates mistrust, false hope, and despair for those who are on the receiving end of this kind of dismissiveness.

When our own Premier talks about the 191 pages of guidelines for long term care, my only response is that these guidelines are failing all of us: residents, their families, the care providers and the long term care community. Similarly, we hold out no real trust that the long-awaited report regarding the status of long term care in our province will be independent or a true reflection of the chronic understaffing that exists in this sector.

We need something stronger – legislated minimum hours of care that employers can be held accountable to uphold.

Our governments ought to do whatever is necessary to keep citizens safe. They need to ensure we have the resources to fight a pandemic or a natural disaster or whatever comes our way. People want to know in times of crisis, that their government will be honest, transparent and have a plan.

They should not play political games to score cheap points – but have integrity to lead and be fair – not try to penny pinch because they’re trying to protect their budgets.

Whether its ideology or fear, governments have abdicated their responsibility to protect ALL citizens by ensuring that we have solid public services for all residents. This doesn’t mean they have a backdoor to push their own agenda to privatize public services.

Health care workers may not be a shiny new buildings with a ribbons on them but they are the ones who work in them and make them run and they need to be invested in too.

But for the heroes you applaud each night, for front line health care workers, the chaos is just the same as every day.

Barbara Cape,
President, SEIU-West

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