Long-term care worker in a mask and face shield stands next to an elder mask-wearing woman sitting in a wheelchair, speaking to a masked woman sitting outside a screened-in porch.As the second wave of COVID-19 makes staffing a critical issue in long-term care homes, CUPE is urging the Ontario legislature to pass Bill 13, the Time to Care Act.

The proposed legislation passed second reading today but must go through a third and final reading before it becomes law.

“We welcome this critical move by the Ontario government and the opposition parties towards a legislated minimum care standard that will require higher staffing levels and improve conditions for residents and workers in long-term care homes,” said Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario.

“But the government must expedite the process to ensure the bill is immediately legislated. Research has shown a co-relation between lower staffing levels and worse COVID-19 outcomes in long-term care homes, making this an urgent issue.”

The NDP private member’s bill, will mandate a four-hour daily minimum care standard in long-term care in concert with expert recommendations by academics. Based on pre-pandemic calculations by the Ontario Health Coalition, long-term care homes average closer to 2.7 hours of daily resident care.

CUPE Ontario, alongside other unions and advocacy groups, has fought for a restoration of the minimum care standard ever since it was removed by the last Ontario Progressive Conservative government in 1996.

The movement for long-term care reform has grown during the pandemic, with CUPE formalizing a partnership with SEIU and Unifor to address privatization and care standards.

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, said that advocates must continue to pressure the government to ensure timely passage of the legislation.

“While today’s an important milestone, we can’t let down our guard. We have to push to ensure this bill comes to third and final reading, is made law, and is implemented immediately. Our parents, grandparents, the front-line heroes in long-term care, and our collective future deserve nothing less.”

Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Hospital Council of Unions/CUPE, said a minimum care standard is an important step in addressing staffing challenges but needs to be complemented with a broader strategy.

“A legislated care standard has to be paired with a comprehensive staffing strategy based on stable employment plus decent wages and benefits to improve working conditions that translate to high quality care,” he said. “There is a long way to go before we can be proud of our long-term care system, but this is an encouraging start.”