Ontario putting $100M into adding 2,000 more nurses in the next few years – Toronto Star

A resident of Sheridan Villa Nursing Home takes a walk with a nurse in this file photo. Ontario is aiming to add 2,000 more nurses in long-term-care sector.

By Rob FergusonQueen’s Park Bureau

Wed., Oct. 27, 20214 min. read

Article was updated 8 hrs ago

It’s earn-while-you-learn time in nursing homes as the province works to improve care and boost staffing levels that have taken a hit in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario is launching a $100 million program to help personal support workers upgrade to registered practical nurses and for RPNs to upgrade to registered nurses. As well, nurses trained abroad can get financial help to obtain their credentials here.

The money will go to tuition and living supports for PSWs and RPNs “who want to take the next step in their careers,” Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said Wednesday, a day after pledging the province will double the number of inspectors keeping watch on nursing homes by next fall.

That promise came as the Ministry of Labour revealed it has laid three pandemic-related charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act against London nursing home Kensington Village, where nurse Brian Beattie died of COVID in May 2020.

The charges, which include knowingly giving false information to an inspector and failing to inform an inspector about an employee who had become sick on the job, have not been proven in court.

Providing up to $6,000 a year for PSWs and $10,000 for RPNs to upgrade, the program announced by Phillips and Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop will also offer up to $5,000 annually to cover the costs of course materials for in-person and online learning, tutoring, child care and travel.

It’s expected the program, called the Beginning Educational Grant in Nursing or BEGIN, will result in another 2,000 RPNs and RNs in nursing homes within four years, when Premier Doug Ford has said nursing home residents will be getting four hours a day of hands-on care — an increase of one hour and 22 minutes from the current average level.

Hands-on care for nursing homes residents includes toileting, bathing, feeding, grooming and dressing, mostly provided by personal support workers.

Caregiver advocate Vivian Stamatopoulos said the government needs to take stronger action to boost nursing levels sooner amid continuing concerns about high staff turnover in long-term care.

“It’s a drop in the bucket and the timeline is unacceptable. We need more nurses now. Attract back those that left.”

Deputy New Democrat Leader Sara Singh said an extra 2,000 nurses “is not going to fill the need” given forecasts from the independent Financial Accountability Office that 37,000 more long-term care workers will be needed to meet the four-hour care standard.

“There will also be thousands of additional new staff needed in a few years’ time” under the government’s commitment to build 30,000 new nursing home beds over 10 years, said Donna Duncan of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, representing 70 per cent of the province’s 626 nursing homes.

“The number one issue facing the health system today is the health human resources crisis,” she added. “In long-term care, we have a critical shortage … our staff team members who have worked through the pandemic in all homes across the province are exhausted and struggling with mental health challenges.”

The government has previously taken steps to increase the supply of PSWs, providing free tuition for thousands at community college programs as part of a $4.9 billion effort to hire 27,000 more nursing home workers to meet the four hours of care standard in stages until 2025.

Phillips and Dunlop announced the career bridge program to increase nursing levels as a lobby group for not-for-profit, municipally run and charitable nursing homes urged the Ford government to stop providing taxpayer funding for profit-oriented nursing home operators to build new beds to ease long wait lists.

“The government is heading in the wrong direction,” said chief executive Lisa Levin of AdvantAge Ontario, calling for all new funding to go to the non-profit sector.

“Ontario’s not-for-profit homes reinvest any surpluses they may have into their residents. In for-profit homes, surpluses are returned to corporate shareholders.”

Phillips said 10,000 much-needed nursing home beds in about 140 projects are now in the works in the for-profit sector, which will be closely watched by the new inspectors under proposed legislation coming Thursday.

“We’re going to spend the money building beds, protecting seniors.”

In its recommendations last May, Ontario’s COVID-19 Long-Term Care Commission took aim at ownership of nursing homes by some for-profit corporations, saying “care should be the sole focus of the entities responsible for long-term care homes.”

The commissioners, who were tasked into looking at the heavy toll of the pandemic in nursing homes where almost 4,000 residents died from the coronavirus, said private capital could be used to rebuild the sector in the same way hospitals, courthouses and light rail lines are being funded.”

A number of homes run by for-profit operators had the most serious and deadly outbreaks of COVID-19.

With files from The Canadian Press

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1


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