‘We’re staring down the barrel of an epidemic’: unions on long term care homes

Kevin Tyrrell, regional VP of OCHU and Dorothy Winterburn, a personal support worker, speak at a news conference at the Benson Center on Nov. 25, 2014. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Two union groups are calling for a minimum standard of care in long term care homes across the province.

Ontario Council of Hospital Unions spokesman Kevin Tyrrell and Dorothy Winterburn, a personal support worker in the Haliburton-area, released their report “Long-Term Care in Ontario: Fostering Systemic Neglect” at a news conference at the Benson Center Tuesday morning.

Cornwall is one stop on a 50 community tour.

Kevin Tyrrell says mandatory daily long term care levels for personal support workers (PSW) and registered practical nurses (RPN) were eliminated in the mid-1990s and the staffing levels per resident have not kept pace since then.

“In 2003, when the Liberals were re-elected, they said that they would reintroduce mandatory care and staffing levels…they have failed to do so,” Tyrrell said.

The report paints a picture of dangerous high resident-to-staff radios of up to 42 residents per worker on various shifts, lax infection control for common viruses like C difficle and a lack of personal time with residents.

The unions are making five recommendations to the province including a call for a mandatory four hour daily care standard for each patient (a worker-resident ratio of 1:8), segregated units for violent residents and mandatory infectious disease testing for residents before they’re admitted to long term care homes.

“We could give them (the residents) real baths, not rushed hot baths, showers, proper baths. We’d be able to provide toileting, snacks and fluids on time and be able to reduce some of their anxiety and depression,” health care worker Dorothy Winterburn said, quoting workers from the study.

Tyrrell says the staffing recommendation would almost double the number of staff in the province to an estimated 100,000 full- and part-time PSWs and RPNs at for-profit and not-for-profit homes.

“We realize that extra funding will be needed and this isn’t just a provincial government problem. This also goes up to the federal government,” as Tyrrell explained that Ontario has been short-changed on transfer payments from Ottawa.

When asked why families of long term care residents are not speaking up about alleged neglect, Tyrrell said those families are actually “picking up the slack” by providing the additional care.

Winterburn added that some families don’t know where to lodge a complaint when they see neglect in long term care homes.

There were 60 workers in five communities surveyed for the study, according to the OCHU.

Tyrrell says they are not ruling out legal action through the Ontario Human Rights Commission on a case of age-based discrimination.

The report has already been giving to the health minister and CUPE/OCHU has invited Dr. Eric Hoskins to their news conference at Queen’s Park in January.

The Champlain Local Health Integration Network, which operates five long term care homes in the Cornwall-area, referred questions on the report to the Ministry of Health.

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