Understaffing at nursing homes leading to poor care: study

This article was published in Hamilton Spectator on December 10th, 2014. Click here to read the article and more similar content.

Nursing home care is substandard due to understaffing — and overworked and undertrained workers, say unions.

A health coalition and a seniors’ advocacy group have similar views on long-term care facilities.

Kevin Tyrrell, regional vice-president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, and public support worker Dorothy Winterburn came to Hamilton Wednesday to present the report “Long-term Care in Ontario: Fostering Systemic Neglect.”

The report summarizes a focus group study of personal support workers (PSWs) by the union council and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Chronic understaffing “is fuelling a barrage of injuries, infection, bedsores and abuse,” said Tyrrell. The problem is also “hastening incontinence and loss of mobility.”

Winterburn said PSWs are overwhelmed, stressed, disappointed and upset because “we deal with people … that are someone’s grandparent or parent.”

Ideally, they should be toileted when they wake up and shortly after getting their meals, but that’s not happening, she said.

“They’re lucky if they get changed once in a shift,” she says. “If someone wants to go to the toilet (and the worker can’t get to them), you’re forced to say, ‘you have a brief (an adult diaper). It’s OK if you have an accident.’ Over time, they become incontinent and don’t bother asking anymore.”

Sometimes, there is one PSW feeding three or more residents at a time, she added. “We are not factory workers. These are human beings we are caring for.”

Winterburn said the report’s recommendations calling for smaller staffing ratios would increase the time spent with residents and allow time for proper baths, feeding and toileting.

Understaffing, high workloads, excess paperwork, threats of being disciplined by the employer along with government policies that are “more about warehousing people than making a welcoming home for them” is preventing the care this generation deserves, she said.

“It’s shameful and wrong.”

The Ontario Health Coalition and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) support the study findings, says Tom Carrothers of Burlington.

Carrothers is on the coalition’s long-term care committee and is also chair of CARP’s Halton chapter.

He said the coalition “firmly believes the hours of care — what I call touch time, the time spent one on one with a resident getting them to the toilet, helping them dress and eat — need to be raised to the minimum four hours a day” from the current 2.8.

Carrothers agrees with the report that the problem is understaffing and that people entering long-term care need higher levels of care because they are sicker due to longer waits in their homes, if they get home care, and waiting longer to be placed.

A lot of groups have the same concerns and are speaking up, he said. “Hopefully, the government will listen.”

The reality is that the increased home care advocated by the government won’t meet the needs of an aging population in need of long-term care, he adds.

Susan Eng, CARP’s vice-president of advocacy, calls the study “a very powerful report.

“It hears from the workers and the frustrations they are feeling. It’s important to hear from the people who are hands-on.”

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care spokesperson David Jensen said by email that the government is committed to quality care and has, since 2008, created 2,500 PSW and 900 nursing positions. He said in 2013, the average number of direct care hours per resident was 3.4.