Among the hardest-hit sectors in Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic are long-term care homes, with over 1,800 resident deaths and 7 staff deaths — including a Filipino personal support worker, or PSW.
SEIU union president, Sharleen Stewart, said staffing challenges have been a long-standing issue in this industry and have contributed to the spread of the virus.
“We were faced with the retention and recruitment problem before COVID hit us where it was not uncommon to have personal support workers work more than one job. Very often you’d see them work 3 jobs, because they’re trying to seam together 3 part-time jobs to make full-time income, that requires them to access things like public transportation. They’re in the congregate settings of 3 different homes. Obviously, it definitely contributed to the spread of any kind of virus and you see that even in flu season, never mind COVID.”
Earlier this month, the Ontario government introduced a temporary pandemic pay of $4 per hour worked on top of the existing hourly wage.
But according to some PSWS, the top-up is not enough considering their precarious employment and difficult working conditions.
“Additional of $4 per hour… you’re exposed to the COVID is not even enough. I don’t have a choice. I need to work so that I can survive. Nobody else can do our job,” said May Casindac.
Casindac further shared their staff did not even have the necessary PPEs for the first few weeks, and until now, are only using thin surgical masks that she pads up with a paper towel.
“I’m wearing my mask 2 to 3 days. Now I use every day now, I keep it for the next shift because if I run out, who will give it to me?”
As Ontario enters stage 2 of reopening its economy and long-term care homes reopen to visitors, healthcare worker advocates like the SEIU hope the community will continue to lobby for a better long term care system.