After decades of negligence and underfunding in the long-term care sector, the pandemic revealed the gaping systemic fault lines that had severe repercussions on Ontarians served by this sector. Last year's report from the province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission stated that nearly 4,000 seniors and 11 staff members died of COVID-19 in Ontario's long-term care homes. Provincial data shows those numbers have increased to more than 4,200 resident and 13 staff deaths. The unsettling truth is that many of these deaths could have been avoided if the appropriate funding, staffing requirements, and infrastructure had been in place.
We need to mitigate these alarming issues. It is reassuring to see the government’s historic commitment of $6.4 billion to build 30,000 new beds and 28,000 upgraded beds by 2028, with nearly 70 per cent of these beds already in the development pipeline. We must work towards urgent solutions as every delay proves to have dire consequences. Quality of care is non-negotiable as more people are making the difficult decision to trust these homes with their families. I am constantly hearing about this from family and friends who will be turning to long-term care homes and home care for their aging parents in the next decade.
For many people in my community, this decision will be plagued with guilt, exhaustion, and feelings of abandonment. These feelings only multiply when they realize that these facilities may not be equipped to provide the optimal care their loved ones deserve. Their fears are justified. While building the infrastructure is a start to addressing the lengthy waitlists, we need to go beyond that. Care is more than just the bricks-and-mortar that make up these buildings. We should equally focus on the care recipients and their care providers.
Currently, the frontline personal support workers are overworked to exhaustion, and the care provided to the residents is compromised due to an insufficient labour supply. The gaps in the labour market demand a large number of skilled workers who can perform in a sector that requires their specialized skills. The solution lies in a holistic approach to training the labour force that concentrates on upskilling, soft skilling, and cultural sensitivity training geared to meet the needs of an increasingly racialized baby boomer population.
I know this not only because I have aging parents myself, but I am also an educator at a private career college, which is the sector that trains 80 per cent of the province’s personal support workers. While recognizing the government’s promise to generally train more personal support workers, we are specifically taking a regional approach in targeting priority communities in Southern Ontario to help develop a strong and sustainable talent pipeline that can support a more integrated ecosystem of health-care institutions in places like Durham. There is a tremendous opportunity to educate our communities about the opportunities to re-skill and upskill and secure related meaningful employment.
There is no doubt a lot of good work is being done by policymakers, health-care leaders, and educators, but the path ahead is long. This is why every stakeholder group should be properly leveraged for the health and safety of the most vulnerable populations in our communities.
Muraly Srinarayanathas is an entrepreneur and educator who is passionate about Ontario's front-line workers. He is the CEO of a private career college called Computek College.