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OPSEU/SEFPO urges long-term strategy for long term care

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In a letter to Long Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and Long Term Care Sector chair Joan Corradetti urge the province to expand on the recruitment program announced on Nov. 9.

“We all know that long-term care is broken and suffering from extreme staffing shortages,” wrote Thomas and Corradetti. “At OPSEU/SEFPO, we welcome your ministry’s program to recruit Resident Support Aides (RSAs), but any recruitment strategy needs to be long term, not a band aid fix.”

The letter includes a number of important recommendations to bring an end to the deadly crisis in long-term care, including:

  • Standardized working conditions and training standards
  • Creation of jobs that are stable and full-time
  • Protection of the duties of PSWs and Nurses
  • Government-funded free tuition for accelerated PSW programs

Here’s the full text of the letter:


November 13, 2020

Hon. Merrilee Fullerton
Minister of Long-Term Care
6th Floor
400 University Ave., Toronto, ON, M7A 1T7
Email: merrilee.fullerton@pc.ola.org

Dear Minister Fullerton,

We all know that long-term care is broken and suffering from extreme staffing shortages. At OPSEU/SEFPO, we welcome your ministry’s program to recruit Resident Support Aides (RSAs), but any recruitment strategy needs to be long term, not a band aid fix.

The sector needs help. But the wrong kind of help could end up doing more damage than good. As you well know, this is a sector that predominantly employs women. Unless your ministry’s overall staffing strategy includes a pathway for RSAs to earn meaningful credentials that don’t strip PSWs and Nurses of their work, you risk trapping the RSAs in a world of low-wage, precarious work.

You must tread carefully.

The preliminary recommendations of Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission highlighted the critical need for investment in staffing resources, with particular focus on ensuring that long-term care homes have the appropriate skill mix to respond to the increasing acuity and complex care needs of patients, and the need to create permanent full-time positions to stabilize retention and maintain continuity of care for patients.

The RSA recruitment program addresses some of the Commission’s recommendations, but not all. To truly address the crisis in long-term care, it is urgently important for your ministry to develop and implement a strategy which includes:

  • A central employment-relations strategy that ensures terms and conditions of employment and training are standardized across the long-term care sector. If the hiring and training of RSAs is left to the discretion of individual LTC employers, an ineffective and potentially dangerous patchwork of skills and expectations will develop.
  • A focus on the entire province, not just Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa. As the second wave deepens and the case numbers continue to skyrocket, other hot spots develop at any moment. The ministry must develop a pro-active approach that covers the needs of the entire province instead of simply waiting to react.
  • As the Commission’s report highlighted, successfully reforming long-term care requires a commitment to creating positions that are stable and full-time. The ministry must ensure the RSA positions reflects this commitment – the recruitment program cannot simply be utilized to create a quick supply of contingency workers trapped in precarious positions.
  • The Commission’s report indicated a need for LTC homes to have the appropriate skill mix to respond to patient care needs. The hiring of RSAs must not replace the important work done by PSWs and Nurses. The regulations attached to the Long Term Care Home Act clearly spell out the qualifications of PSWs. Your ministry must adopt similar regulations for RSAs, and must also outline the specific duties that will be assigned to RSAs and clearly mandate a ratio of RSAs, PSWs for LTC homes.

On the question of your RSA recruitment program, OPSEU/SEFPO recommends hiring RSAs as direct employees of the Ministry of Long-Term Care. Standards of care will not be undermined by the for-profit model if workers are direct employees. Direct employees would be required to follow provincial accountability standards. This will also ensure that RSAs are trained to provide the highest standard of care, will receive the same terms and conditions of employment, and will allow the province to deploy RSA resources based on need.

But the RSA recruitment program on its own is not enough. OPSEU/SEFPO urges your ministry to take a concerted approach to the staffing crisis facing long-term care.

Let’s be clear. OPSEU/SEFPO stands by its recommendation calling on government to offer government-funded college education, and direct colleges to work with OPSEU/SEFPO to develop appropriate training and certification programs.

Minister Fullerton, the staffing crisis in long-term care needs to provide real solutions that facilitate permanent stability for the sector. OPSEU/SEFPO urges the province to establish a collaboration forum for bargaining agents to work with your government to ensure this strategy is implemented effectively and successfully.

Respectfully submitted,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU/SEFPO President

Joan Corradetti
Chair, OPSEU/SEFPO Long-Term Care Sector