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COVID-19: Staffing shortage continues in LTC, retirement homes as third wave looms

The Ontario Long Term Care association says some staff are being scooped up by commercial companies
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(stock photo)

The Ontario Long Term Care Association says an already shallow pool of talent is being further drained as some workers get scooped up by large companies like Amazon, and to the film industry, as it becomes profitable for those sectors to have infection prevention staff.

It's no secret that the province is still starving for healthcare staff, especially Personal Support Workers (PSWs) in long-term care, hospitals and retirement homes. In the past year, the system has been pushed past the absolute limit for staffing, and the province has responded with funding measures. In February, $4.1 million was announced to help fund accelerated training in Ontario, including $128,000 to ParaMed Inc. in Kitchener. Just two days later, $115 million was announced to help train 8,200 PSWs. 

The lack of PSWs goes hand-in-hand with their wages, however. That's why the province has created financial and educational incentives in an attempt to drum up staff for nursing homes.

That makes it difficult for retirement homes to attract new talent, according to Highview Residences CEO Joy Birch, as a recent $3/hour wage boost announced in October doesn't apply to those working in retirement .

"It was already a wage differential between the two places, and then this has made it more significant," said Birch, though she did note that Highview Residences has had high retention rates throughout the pandemic.

"What continues to be on my radar is the staffing situation, because the more fragile that your staffing scenario is, the more at-risk you are if you are to go into an actual outbreak."

As the province stares down a third wave of COVID-19, there is hope it will not bring devastation to long-term care and retirement homes with many residents and staff having gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

"The only way to describe it is a huge sense of relief," said Birch. "What we are counting on with that vaccine working, what we are hoping for, is that if it does come into the home and if we do end up positive with even one case, it's not going to rip through the home with the catastrophic effects that we saw almost a year ago to the day."

Birch also asked that people renew their vocal, outward support for healthcare workers, even with an end in sight.

"I know we heard so much about our frontline healthcare heroes in our first six months of the pandemic, and people were banging pots and ringing bells and putting out blue signs to show their support for frontline workers, and the one message I would send forward today is, 'Please don't let that stop.'"

"They really need us to lift them up, and to show them how thankful we are for the work that they're doing. None of this happens without them, none of this. So, if there's a chance to thank a healthcare worker, then I'd really encourage you to do that."