April 23, 2020, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
As our elderly and disabled friends and neighbours continue to die in long term care homes due to poor planning, lax legislation, underfunding an poor oversight the governments continue to make hollow promises of reform.
Last week Doug Ford committed to restricting long term care workers to working in one facility in order to reduce the passing of disease from one home to another by care givers. It now turns out that temporary agency workers who are a crutch for the piece meal, part time worker, low paid work force that keeps homes open, are exempt from this regulation. In other words agency temps can work in several homes.
The situation is so desperate for long term care homes that instead of using temp agencies when workers are ill and they need backup, homes use them all the time. Long term care homes pay notoriously low wages, offer poor working conditions and are chronically understaffed as a result. According to the president of the Services Employees International Union Healthcare “Workers absolutely want on full time job. But when you pay them so poorly you have to work two jobs to make a living”. Most homes offer far fewer full time positions than required as the full time positions cost more in wages in and benefits than part time and temp agencies.
Retention of employees is notoriously difficult due to the working conditions and low wages. It becomes an endless cycle of ‘making due’ short staffed in homes.
As the pandemic has left homes even more short handed the government indicated that it prefers long term care homes offer their part time workers full time positions, however according to the Union people don’t want to take jobs at the homes due to the low pay and constant overwork due to understaffing.
The Toronto Star reports that:
Years of underfunding and the expansion of for-profit care homes have deeply impacted working conditions, leading to poor pay, high turnover, and the need for a contingent workforce to plug the gaps, says Pat Armstrong, sociology professor at York University.
“If you’re trying to make profit out of a long-term care home, your biggest cost is labour.”
Armstrong is part of an interdisciplinary team that has studied nursing homes in Canada and five other jurisdictions over the past decade. A forthcoming report on their findings for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says that “homes run on a for-profit basis tend to have lower staffing levels, more verified complaints, and more transfers to hospitals, as well as higher rates for both ulcers and morbidity.”
“Moreover, managerial practices taken from the business sector are designed for just enough labour and for making a profit, rather than for providing good care,” the report says.
“These include paying the lowest wages possible, and hiring part-time, casual and those defined as self-employed in order to avoid paying benefits or providing other protections.”
Enter staffing agencies.
“PSWs have double the rate of absenteeism due to illness or injury compared to the (Canadian) average,” said Kate Laxer, a research associate with Dr. Tamara Daly at York University’s Centre for Aging Research and Education.
“If you even were to imagine that just one PSW is sick, and they’re dealing with perhaps a ratio of three PSWs to 20 residents, that would have a very serious consequence in the overall ratio,” she added.
“That would require an agency staff person to fill in at that point. And it’s very common. It happens all the time.”