Susan Whiteside Davis
My friends - One last request.....please share - I know it's lengthy - but it's important. Much thanks - Sue
In the coming days you may hear that many Personal Support Workers (“PSWs”) in this community and other communities across Ontario will be taking strike action.
As a group of caring individuals who deliver home care to you and your loved ones, we’d like to say that we are not taking this action lightly. Unfortunately, we have been taken for granted by the province and our employer for far too many years.
Our wages remain the lowest in the health care sector, and have been frozen for many years, while the cost of living continues to rise. The mileage paid to us is about 18 cents per kilometre below the standard Ministry rate. Most of us are compensated very little while traveling between clients. If we are on the road for 20 minutes between clients, say 5 times a day, that hour and a half is in essence volunteer time.
Some work in excess of 12 straight days and only take every other weekend off just so they can pay their bills and put food on the table.
For many years the media has reported about the crisis in elder care. We have heard horror stories of elder neglect and abuse. All major media have run series exposes on the state of elder care in this Province. There has been story after story of people waiting for homecare. Homecare Summits have been held, numerous studies been conducted, and proposals have been submitted. Yet the state elder care and those living with chronic illness or disability care in this Province is shameful.
For years we’ve been hopeful that the MOHLTC will actually put our money where their mouths are and strategically plan a system of care that works. They’ve made promises but have yet to deliver. We’re in crisis and we predict it’s about to get whole lot worse.
This is a call to action.
According to data compiled by Homecare Ontario Association, personal support workers, provide about 72% of publicly funded homecare services in Ontario. There are about 30,000 of us who deliver care to over a half a million people every single day. We play an integral role in helping people stay in their homes longer or until end of life.
For those of you who may not know how the process of homecare works – here it goes: through our tax dollars, anyone in Ontario who meets the criteria can receive publicly funded homecare. Most of the personal support workers that visit your homes have been hired though direct care provider agencies contracted by Community Care Access Centres (“CCACs”). There are 14 CCACs throughout the Province. The CCACs are accountable to the Local Health Integration Network (“LHINs”) who plan and fund local health services and who work directly with the Ministry of Health Long Term Care (“MOHLTC”), the stewards of the health system. That’s a whole lot of bureaucracy before it trickles down to you, the taxpayer.
Over the years publicly funded homecare has moved from the not-for-profit service model to a for-profit model. In fact, Ontario now has hundreds of for-profit agencies delivering publicly funded homecare. It seems like everyone wants a piece of the action. Some of those agencies are large corporations making huge profits from the public purse—and off our backs. Remember, there are 30,000 of us. Yet the waiting lists for homecare are still too long. And 30,000 of us are still not enough to cover the hours of care required. We fear that the integrity of the delivery of homecare is at risk and that accountability is no longer a priority.
CCACs make the delivery of homecare a competition. They punitively put holds on service delivery agencies that fail to properly manage their human resources, which often leave our clients without service and those waiting for service on hold.
We are tired of being caught in the middle.
Every February and March, when the CCACs are near their year-end and their funding has been exhausted, they visit our clients and find ways to reduce their hours of service. This puts our clients at risk and it means a sharp reduction in hours for us – the front line. Many of us are left with severe drops in pay—and by the time our vacation pay is paid out in one lump sum in May, we must use those dollars to cover the shortfall of the previous months. For many of us that means we’ve not taken vacation, near or far, for several years.
Several advocacy groups, including the Ontario Health Coalition and various unions including SEIU, OPSEU and CUPE, have called for the provincial government to reduce administrative redundancy and stop the profiteering of corporations who claim to be client centered.
In recent months, we have seen more hospital beds closing and patients sent home with a promise that they would receive homecare. We see the closure of programs for seniors living with dementia. Yet, without the human resources needed, or a plan in place, that promise has been unattainable.
The Ontario government has promised more dollars for homecare. Quite frankly, we’re not sure what that means. If it means more dollars going to the various bureaucracies and for-profit corporations so that their administrators can figure it out, then we are in serious trouble. If it means more money to hire more PSWs to be paid poverty level wages, then we’re just looking at more burnout and turnover.
Personal Support Workers have shown up to Queen’s Park every year, asking to be recognized and compensated fairly. The Ontario Minister of Health, Deb Mathews, has walked a day in a PSW’s shoes, without any further action other than a public relations piece for her. We now have a PSW registry that so far has been meaningless to us. We hear the promise of client-centred homecare – and yet our clients are consistently disappointed by the number of different PSWs coming through their doors, who know nothing about the client but the most basic information. This is particularly difficult for our clients and their loved ones living with dementias.
Most of us come to this job with a desire to help others. We’re educated, kind, caring, and intelligent. We are creative caregivers who provide personal loving care. We do this with heart and soul. We care about you and your families. We go that extra mile when no one else will. We do this without the support of co-workers and increasingly without the support of clinical resources.
Our employers and the government have counted on this disconnect. They have counted on us working alone and not communicating with each other, so that year after year we slip through the system unnoticed, unrecognized and poorly compensated. So much so that we find ourselves unable to make a living wage.
We are in this strike position because our government has not made personal support home care an essential service. We find ourselves in a strike position because our employers care more about their bottom line than they do their front line. And we find ourselves in strike position because together the government, its bureaucracies and our for-profit employers have failed to fulfill the promise of homecare. They have taken the “care” out of homecare by making you a statistic, a number rather than a person.
From E-Health, to cancelled Gas Plants and the ORNGE fiasco, we see this government wasting its citizen’s hard earned tax dollars recklessly. It is shameful.
This is a call to action.
Please call or write your MPPs, your municipal leaders, the opposition leaders, your Minister of Health and your Premier. Tell them that you’re tired of waiting.
Tell them what personal support home care has meant to you. Tell them that you want to see a real plan in place to fulfill the promise. Tell them that personal support workers are indeed essential and should be treated as such.
Susan Davis with PSW’s Time for Change