From “The Forgotten Frontline: homecare during the pandemic”:
“This pandemic has shone a light on the extent to which, so few people understand what homecare is. For too many there is still an outdated image of homecare as ‘mopping and shopping,’ as a set of practical activities designed to make people feel better but not much more than that. As almost like an added luxury! The truth could not be further than that”.
Every day on the radio and in social media we hear about the importance of supporting all health care workers providing care, whether this is in the home, retirement residence or long-term care home. “We have your backs” we keep hearing everyone say, but this is not the case for all workers.
On April 25th, the Ontario government made the following press release: “Ontario Supporting Frontline Heroes of COVID-19 with Pandemic Pay – Government Recognizes the Dedication and Sacrifice of Frontline Workers”.
It went on to say: “This increase will provide four dollars per hour worked on top of existing hourly wages, regardless of the qualified employee’s hourly wage. In addition, employees working over 100 hours per month would receive lump sum payments of $250 per month for each of the next four months. This means that eligible employees working an average of 40 hours per week would receive $3,560 in additional compensation. Those eligible to receive the payment will be staff working in long-term care homes, retirement homes, emergency shelters, supportive housing, social services congregate care settings, corrections institutions and youth justice facilities, as well as those providing home and community care and some staff in hospitals.”
But, the policy excluded anyone that was not contracted directly by the government. Despite the fact that most “home care” in the community is delivered by private contractors, the government decided to exclude a large portion of this health care workforce. Perhaps the many smaller providers lacked necessary political influence or more to the point private caregivers were not considered heroes or anything close?
We believe that excluding a great many people from this important gesture is discriminatory and a human rights issue. It has also insulted a great many workers and upset many families.
The government is excluding important people who are providing care to persons in long term care, in retirement residences, and in the home and the community, contrary to the public statement and promise made. The following is from one of our caregivers:
“…in April the Premier of Ontario announced a $4/hr increase on salaries of all frontline workers…it mentioned staff working in facilities, long term care and nursing homes….I agree with the Premier. Healthcare workers are first and foremost deserving of the recognition and financial reward. Now here’s the tricky question: do we as Mosaic frontline workers and PSW’s qualify for the increase? As I read the announcement there’s a line there that says and I quote….”as well as those providing home and community care and some staff in hospitals”…. unquote. I am hoping that it included privately operated healthcare providers. That added incentive will surely boost our financial situation especially at this time, amid the pandemic where commodities, rent and everyday expenses are on the rise.”
We know that our caregivers are making personal sacrifices and taking risks to provide care in the community each and every day. The personal sacrifices they are making include sleeping apart from family, taking extra precautions to avoid contracting the virus and in many instances accepting reduced hours because of the need to avoid multiple person contacts. Many health workers have underlying health conditions, yet society expects them to continue to turn up.
The personal support and nursing care that excluded care workers provide is mostly within personal and intimate space. Many will be going into known higher risk environments such as nursing homes and retirement residences. But home and community care is not without risks: homes may receive a number of visitors including health care workers from private contracted agencies who may visit multiple people and environments on a daily basis. Our frontline staff are not just responsible for providing personal care but social and emotional supports and in the current climate are often the first point of call for monitoring visitors into the home.
The care that these health care workers provide is important to a great many families as public health only provides a limited amount of care. Most of the care provided by public health is task based and of limited duration and is insufficient to keep many persons safe in their homes. Many of the issues we see with care in the home and the community are similar to those we see in long term care. Personal support work and nursing in the community is seen more as a set of rudimentary tasks that have little value. As the quotation at the start of this article says “The truth could not be further than that”. The following is from one of our PSWs currently in a long term care environment:
“It’s hard working in the LTC, even if you’re dealing with only one client….I want to highlight the PSW working one on one. We are not dealing in physical care alone. We are working on the most important aspect, the EMOTIONAL part, which I think is the most important to be taken care of. We deal with their emotions, we talk to them, we laugh with them, we stay by their side where nobody else is with them in a situation they are now.”
Without the care provided by this excluded workforce many more human beings may need to move into long term care homes at a time when it is least feasible to do so and to receive levels of care that have long been recognised to be insufficient.
But excluding the many health care workers who work in private care impacts not only a much more vulnerable work force but also the families for whom the cost of care is itself a sacrifice.
Many of our families have decided to chip in and pay the extra fee themselves. While some families may be able to do so others will not have the financial leeway. We know that families are torn between wishing to support their care providers and being able to provide care in the first place and feel the dilemma intensely. We should not be placing families and caregivers in this situation.
Many of those we speak to believe that the government is supporting all who provide care in long term care, retirement residences and home and community. Not so. There appears to be a distinction between first class citizens who are heroes and other much deserving, apparently second class citizens, who are not worthy of being spoken of in the same breath.
We believe in all caregivers and we also believe in the families they serve. We should not divide and differentiate between what are first and foremost important relationships in difficult times.