Invest in LTC workers

By Jenn Watt

For several years I spent a good deal of time in one of our long-term care homes Highland Wood in Haliburton visiting my friend Ruby who lived there. I’d go for a couple of hours once a week usually on a Monday or Tuesday night when we’d chat about life and share tidbits of gossip.

While I was there I got to know the staff and their routines when to expect the snack cart when medication time came around and how they would respond to urgent needs like a fall or a resident with dementia who was confused and in distress.

Ruby kept tabs on all these workers who treated her like a grandmother. One knew she liked yogurt and would tuck a bowl onto her cart as a special treat. Another would talk to Ruby about her kids and they’d compare notes. One PSW would save time at the end of his shift to come in and chat with her one-on-one. She loved that and told me about it often.

Ruby along with all of the other residents also relied on this staff to be attuned to their health: their dietary needs their likelihood of falling whether they were energetic or lethargic. And they did it all at a hectic pace while somehow seeming unflustered and pleasant.

When I got home each week from my visits I would frequently say that whatever the staff were making wasn’t enough. Responsible for everything from toileting and feeding to psychological and emotional support for the community’s elders these staff deserved accolades.

That was before COVID-19. Now that same tireless staff is caring for our most vulnerable population at a time of incredible stress and anxiety. Outbreaks are happening at long-term care facilities across the province and these staff are literally on the frontline.

The prime minister has indicated the government is planning to top up pay for health-care workers in LTC recognizing both the dangerous nature of the job and that they’re now being asked to work at only one facility to lessen the chance of COVID-19 spread – a necessary decision which will hinder the workers’ ability to make ends meet.

A pay increase for these workers will be money well spent. The staff in long-term care deserve far more recognition and compensation than they’ve received. Investing our health-care dollars in them is the least we can do.