TORONTO – Poor working conditions and the surge of the Omicron variant has caused a severe staff shortage in long-term care homes in Toronto.
While more than 90 per cent of Ontario’s LTC residents are vaccinated with their fourth shot, and testing requirements among workers have helped bring the number of cases down, the impact of the pandemic goes beyond the need for constant hand washing and the use of masks.
Staffing shortages have plagued long-term care facilities during the pandemic, forcing some to limit the number of new residents they could accept; in other cases, facilities have had to adapt to work with more residents than staff.
“Then and today, what matters the most is the staffing and there can’t be no really good solution without a staffing solution,” says Andrew Costa, an assistant professor and the Schlegel chair in Clinical Epidemiology and Aging at McMaster University in Hamilton.
Amid the Omicron surge, the Ontario-based Health Standards Organization has released a new National Long-Term Care Services standard. The new draft focuses on making LTC facilities a better workplace for staff and a more welcoming home for residents.
The necessity of a long-term care services standard came after people started demanding improvements in provision of LTC when over 15,800 residents of nursing and retirement homes died from COVID-19.
The COVID-19 has brought to light various flaws of the long-term care homes across the province. Costa says some of the things that need improvement are staff’s salary.
Welsh has been reporting on long-term care homes since before the pandemic. She says overcrowding is a significant problem, mostly in facilities with an older design where residents don’t have things like a personal bathroom.
Omicron has caused many nursing homes to close communal areas, restrict group activities, and restrict visitors, but as cases go down, more measures are being lifted.
On February 4, the provincial government announced that, effective February 7, the number of caregivers allowed to visit would increase from two to four.
Starting on Monday February 21, anyone aged five and older who has two doses of the vaccine will be able to visit their loved ones in long-term care homes.
Some measures are still in place. For instance, only three visitors will be allowed at a time.
The province also announced that on March 14, children under the age of five will be able to resume visits, and all the residents will be able to go on overnight absences, even if they are not completely vaccinated.
In an effort to control the spread of cases and keep the residents and staff safe, the province says COVID-19 testing is still a requirement for staff and visitors.