Long-term care in Ontario is losing staff to other industries that, due to the pandemic, are hiring health-care workers for infection prevention and testing supports, a group representing more than 70 per cent of the province’s homes said Tuesday.
Donna Duncan, the CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, said the staffing crisis in the province's seniors homes is worsening.
"Never before would we lose our regulated health professionals and infection prevention and control specialists to companies like Amazon, to airports or film and television studios," Duncan said.
"As other parts of our economy required infection prevention and control and testing supports, they are drawing from the health-care system and draining from long-term care."
Addressing the staffing crisis in long-term care is one of the association's four recommendations to the Ontario government ahead of next week's budget.
"We know that we need to move quickly to bring new people in," Duncan said.
"Our long-term care home staff are truamatized, demoralized, stigmatized, and they are exhausted, not just emotionally but physically. This is very, very heavy work."
Severe staffing shortages have been cited repeatedly to the province's Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission as one of the primary reasons the disease had such devastating effects in nursing homes.
Duncan said money alone won't solve the problem, as pay increases last summer have not increased the numbers of qualified workers.
"We need to find a way to change how we talk about long-term care," Duncan said.
"We need to lift the stigma to motivate people to work in the sector because right now people don't want to work there."
She said the association has a task force that is working on figuring out how to solve the staffing problem.
The association applauded the province's recent announcement to offer paid tuition for 6,000 personal support worker students to inject new staff into the industry.
She said they also need to incentivize nurses to remain in long-term care homes as well as to attract new nurses.
The association also recommended the province move urgently to physically rebuild older homes.
It also said the homes' accountability needs to be revamped to also take into account quality-of-life measures, not just compliance with regulations.
The association also said there needs to be better integration with the overall health-care system in Ontario.
COVID-19 has killed more than 3,700 residents in Ontario's long-term care homes.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press