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Health Workers Seek Answers; Nursing Home Staff Press Ontario For Minimum-Care Standards

Posted By Frank Armstrong

Leaders of a union that represents 12,000 Ontario nursing home workers visited Kingston yesterday to demand the provincial government fulfil its election promise to invoke minimum-care standards for residents.

The officials with the Service Employees International Union stopped in front of a west-end nursing home to deliver their message through a curbside news conference to Health and Long Term Care Minister George Smitherman as part of a provincewide campaign.

"We are standing in front of Trillium Centre Specialty Care to tell you that we have not seen any significant improvements to the quality of care Ontario nursing home residents receive since ... Smitherman said we would create a revolution in long-term care in December 2003," said union secretary-treasurer Cathy Carroll.

The union is calling on the provincial government to institute a minimum-staffing standard of 3.5 hours of care per resident per day. Ontario's nursing home residents have had no such protection since the mid-1990s, when former Ontario premier Mike Harris eliminated the 2.25 hours minimum of daily care to which each nursing home resident was entitled.

In 2003, the Toronto Star newspaper exposed widespread problems in Ontario's nursing homes, where residents died needless, painful deaths because there weren't enough staff.

In response, Smitherman promised to make fixing the province's troubled nursing home system a priority.

In October 2006, the government introduced legislation to improve conditions in long-term care homes, but there is no mention of staffing or care standards.

Also, 14 months later, the Long Term Care Homes Act still has not been proclaimed law.

Carroll suggested yesterday that the government is dragging its feet.

Andrew Morrison, spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, said the province is taking action.

The Long Term Care Homes Act received royal assent in June.

In August, Smitherman appointed Shirlee Sharkey, president and CEO of St. Elizabeth Health Care, to research best practices and standards in long-term care homes.

"Where she's at now is she's forming a progress report that we're expecting at the end of next month," said Morrison. "Then her final report will be coming to us in April."

Sharkey will speak to long-term care residents and their families, experts in the field and others to form her report.

The ministry will then use that research to create regulations for long-term care homes, Morrison said.

Those regulations could include the type of minimum-care standards that the Service Employees International Union is demanding, he said.

He added that the unions will get a chance to provide input before the regulations are drawn up.

Carroll said Sharkey's appointment is a delay tactic.

According to the union, staffing hours tallied in 2006 at about two dozen privately run Ontario nursing homes where the union has members indicate that care levels are all over the map.

According to the union, Trillium Centre residents each get about 2.26 hours of care per day, which is slightly higher than the former 2.25 provincial standard.

"This is one of the higher ones that we've found and it still isn't enough," Carroll said.

The union represents as many as 230 Trillium Centre registered nurses, registered practical nurses, personal support workers, dietary cooks, and laundry staff and housekeepers.

One of the lowest hours of care per resident was recorded at Maynard Nursing Home in Toronto, where residents receive just 1.52 hours per day of care.

At some homes, there are as many as 18 residents being cared for by one personal support worker, Carroll said.

She said the work has become more difficult over the last decade, since the provincial government began closing more long-term care beds in hospitals and moving patients to nursing homes.

"Now we're seeing more Alzheimer's, more lockdown units and more mental-health patients," she said.

Because there are no staffing standards, nursing home staff are stressed, there are high turnover rates, residents are abused and neglected and there are high rates of physical injury to staff, Carroll said.

Elaine Barry, a personal support worker in Trillium Centre's dementia secure unit, said workers sometimes suffer back injuries while lifting people or while trying to stop residents from falling. Many staff also work past the end of their shift and through their breaks, Barry said.

"Probably, in a 10-day period, I would miss half of my breaks," she said.

farmstrong@thewhig.com Article ID# 872236

Reproduced from http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=872236

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