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Riz Lutheran
Group calls for reform to long-term care industry

Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff

A group of concerned Mitchell and Stratford citizens want to see more government accountability for what goes on in Ontario’s long-term care residences.

About 35 people, many either current or retired personal support workers (PSWs) or who have a family member presently living in a nursing home, attended a meeting last Wednesday evening in Mitchell to discuss ways of improving the working and living conditions inside the hundreds of public, private and non-profit facilities across the province.

“People don’t know what goes on in a nursing home,” suggested Sue Staldegger, a former PSW who organized the meeting with fellow Mitchell resident Bob Martin.

She said PSWs have been taking on more responsibility for years, and the system has reached a critical point where they are now overworked and unable to provide the level of care to residents that’s expected of them.

It takes a certain kind of person to do the job of a PSW, she noted, adding she believes the majority of people who stick with it  want the best for residents in their care. But when they’re overwhelmed, mistakes can happen, and sometimes corners are cut, she added.

“The (residents) who don’t eat fast enough aren’t getting fed,” she told the Gazette in an interview before the meeting. “I know for a fact they’re not because it’s impossible. (The staff) just don’t have time.”

Similarly, Staldegger said it’s not uncommon for residents to miss a bath or not get their teeth brushed, though she’s quick to note, “it’s not done intentionally and it’s not the PSWs’ fault.”

Staldegger and the group are advocating for the province to implement a PSW-to-residents ratio. One existed under the NDP but was a casualty of the health care spending cuts under Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris.

Staldegger said the province claims a PSW in Ontario will looks after, on average, eight residents. But one woman at the meeting, who asked that her name and place of employment not be printed, noted where she works the ratio is closer to one PSW for every 17 residents.

The woman said there will be times when 10 residents are calling her for something at the same time, and admitted she’s not as thorough in her documentation because there simply isn’t enough time before her shift ends.

To what degree residents’ health and safety are being compromised because of the staffing challenges isn’t entirely clear.

But that could soon change.

NDP health critic France Gélinas plans to reintroduce Bill 122 – a bill that would give Ontario’s Ombudsman the authority to review citizen complaints in nursing homes – into the legislature in the near future. The bill passed first reading in September and was due for second reading in October but died when parliament was prorogued.

Ontario is one of only two provinces that does not give its Ombudsman independent oversight for health care services.

Martin said any deficiencies in care are more a result of a lack of government support – as the Liberals attempt to tackle a $14 billion deficit and place more emphasis on improving at-home care – than poor administrators and management within the homes themselves.

But with thousands of people already on waiting lists for a bed, the problem is only going to get worse as the population ages further, he added.

Martin said public and non-profit homes are disappearing because they can’t afford to operate. And, he fears it’s only a mater of time before for-profit operators like  Extendicare Canada, which entered a formal partnership to help run the Ritz Lutheran Villa in Mitchell last year, begin making cuts to improve their bottom line.

Given the location of last week’s meeting, it was no surprise that the topic of the villa came up during a question period.

In December, the villa’s medical director, Dr. Mark Diotallevi, resigned along with three of his colleagues at Mitchell Family Doctors who served as attending physicians. This followed the departure in November of director of care Krista Nesbitt after just one month. She was one of several directors of care at the villa to leave over the last five years.

Martin and Staldegger said they are considering another meeting in March to update the public on any changes provincially related to long-term care facilities.

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