Nurses, PSWs Leave Healthcare Sector Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Heroes on the front lines of COVID-19, who work to protect the province’s most vulnerable population, are quitting or planning to quit their jobs, which could potentially spark yet another crisis in long-term care homes.The Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) says nearly 30 percent or 7,500 of the nurses and personal support workers they represent in Ontario have left their jobs or are planning to leave due to financial constraints.

“The most recent calls have been heartbreaking from front-line workers who have been stripped of their jobs without fail,” said Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU.

The union says government restrictions on staff at several long-term care homes have placed a financial burden on thousands of their workers.

Stewart said: ‘The pandemic was not their fault, conditions were bad before COVID hit us where they were forced to work more than one job. No one wants to work three shifts a day to get a full-time salary. ”

The restriction was put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 from one home to another and applies to a number of employees working in health centers. But groups, including the Ontario Nurses Association, say the emergency order revealed loopholes that existed long before the pandemic.

“We had a staffing shortage in long-term care before COVID, and I am very worried about the situation if we do nothing to help these people so that they can continue to work in the long-term care sector. “. said Vicki McKenna, President of the Nurses Association of Ontario (ONA). “The single employer is the right way to go, but what we discussed with the government was whether they were going to institute a single employer, that they should somehow make up for the economic loss. that employees would suffer because of it.

Before the pandemic, these healthcare workers worked in several healthcare facilities to make ends meet. Due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the union says their earnings have been cut by at least 50 percent.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care told CityNews that about 100,000 of those workers received the $ 4 per hour pay-hour supplement for the pandemic, which has since ended.

“How are you ever going to take this money away from people who are already so poorly paid,” Steward said. “It’s like giving someone food and water and literally taking it away from them.

The province adds that those who worked more than 100 hours received an additional $ 250 per month on their paycheques.

This is the strategy used by the province to encourage staff to continue working in this field and to attract new workers to help maintain staffing levels.

“The government itself could have taken this step to say, ‘We’re not going to wait for employers to do the right thing, we’re going to do the right thing by making sure that people’s wages are matched. they’re suffering economic loss, ”McKenna said.

A number of long-term care organizations have written a letter to the province, warning these facilities are not ready to handle a second wave of COVID-19 and that the staff shortage in these homes has not subsided. improved.

“Ontario, the province with the largest number of long-term care residents in Canada, lags behind other provinces that have already completed recruiting and training thousands of new front-line workers… The recent surge cases in Ontario and other provinces is a warning that we have little time to waste, ”the letter read.

The letter added that staffing problems have worsened under current conditions. “The staff are exhausted and their mental health has deteriorated due to the trauma they have suffered either in responding to severe epidemics and tragic losses or in working aggressively to prevent epidemics.

“We found ourselves in this situation during SARS, and here we are again,” McKenna said. “But what was different during SARS was that they set aside a fund to help offset some of that economic loss, and that didn’t happen.

More than 1,800 people have died in more than 340 long-term care homes that have experienced epidemics since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some of them lost their spouses because they contracted COVID from their partners working in nursing homes,” Steward said. “They are no longer prepared to take this risk at the rate of pay they receive, the precariousness of this job and in their opinion, the total lack of respect for the services they offer”,

Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca both criticized the government for “not being prepared” on Tuesday.

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