A long-awaited plan for staffing in long-term care released today by the Ontario government squarely recognizes that front-line care staff are a vital “pillar” to improve resident well-being, says CUPE Ontario.

“These are long overdue improvements. While we do not have the full details, what was made public so far, does move us significantly in the right direction to a full four hours a day of hands on care, albeit over four years. CUPE front-line long-term care members have spent years of their working lives advocating for higher care and staffing,” says CUPE Ontario Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick, herself a former long-term care worker.

CUPE in Ontario represents more than 35,000 registered practical nurses (RPNs), personal support workers (PSWs), dietary, custodial and activation and other long-term care staff in hundreds of long-term care province-wide. Well before COVID-19 highlighted the systemic staffing and care challenges in a provincially under-funded long-term care system, “workers on the front-line identified for government the care and staffing gaps that became brutally evident during the pandemic,” says Rennick.

Much of the province’s announcement of $1.9 billion over four years going into long-term care appears earmarked for direct care, like that provided by RPNs and PSWs.

“For us now, going forward it is imperative the government address in a systematic way the low wages, heavy workload and high number of part-time jobs in the sector. We know clearly from the COVID-19 first wave that all these were factors in de-stabilizing resident care and creating a staffing crisis.  We need to hear a solid plan to retain the existing workforce, which could include components like making the jobs full-time and permanent compensation increases rather than sporadic pandemic pay,”

Also missing in today’s announcement that calls for an additional 27,000 care professionals coming on stream, is a fulsome strategy to attract students to train to work in long-term care. “We also believe that training should happen overwhelmingly at public colleges,” says Michael Hurley, President of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

Because the government plan spans four years, “many of the seniors who are now residing in long-term care homes will not get the benefit of four-hours of care in their lifetime. Expediting this plan using any possible federal funding available should be a priority for Ontario,” Hurley says.