By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady
It all boils down to people.
That simple statement sums up the problems facing health care today. However, the situation and solutions are much deeper.
The shortage of personal support workers (PSWs) became apparent during the pandemic. These dedicated workers provide daily care to residents in retirement and nursing homes. They also are a crucial part of the province’s home support program, going into private residences to assist seniors and others with simple medical procedures and help with bathing, personal care and household chores.
While the lack of PSWs became mainstream news over the past few years, the problem has been going on much longer. As an employee of former Toby Barrett for 23 years, I witnessed the PSW shortage well before the pandemic. I’ve also seen aging at home only works when the vital services our seniors require are in place.
To the government’s credit, they tackled the issue during the pandemic, offering free tuition for PSW students and providing a $5 per hour wage boost for PSWs. Despite these initiatives, the problem has not gone away. My office still hears there aren’t enough PSWs and that sometimes the services the client requires are not part of the service provided.
More recently, a shortage of nurses has been front and centre. Overworked and burnt out, some nurses have retired early – some of our very best nurses. Others were just part of a large cohort of people reaching retirement age. Some were forced to leave their profession due to their institution’s vaccination mandates. I have been clear and called on the Minister of Health in the Ontario Legislature to put every qualified healthcare professional back on the job. Lives depend on whether or not there are enough hands on deck.
There was some good news recently when the province announced the expansion of its Learn and Stay grant program. The Ontario Learn and Stay Grant provides funding for students’ tuition and books if studying in priority programs in priority communities in Ontario, including Southwestern Ontario. Nursing, practical nursing and paramedics are among the programs. In return, the student must work in an underserviced area for six months for each year the program covers them. The government had previously announced the approval of foreign-trained nurses, something I called for in the last election campaign. Please keep in mind these are nurses who were already living in Ontario and perhaps not working or were working at an unrelated job.
The government can go further, though. Many retired nurses have told me they were graduates of a two-year college program and questioned the need for a four-year graduate degree in nursing. This would accelerate the rate nurses can graduate.
Doctors are another health care professional group in short supply in rural areas, including Haldimand and Norfolk. Again, a huge cohort is retiring or on the verge of retiring.
A medical student who wants to work in rural Ontario recently wrote my office, expressing his frustration that there are only 20 seats in the Queen’s University rural medicine program. I agree with him that there need to be more seats available to fill this growing void and have written to the Ministry of Health asking why we aren’t opening more spaces.
Locally, I was heartened to see Norfolk County and Norfolk General Hospital have formed a team to look at doctor recruitment.
Ontario’s surgical situation has been in the news lately, with the announcement that some procedures will be funded through OHIP at private clinics to speed up the backlog. I am wary of this proposal, fearful that the private clinics will siphon personnel away from hospitals already short staffed. That being said, other provinces have taken this step and witnessed success.
No doubt this perfect storm of retiring workers and a lack of qualified replacements has resulted in a crisis in Ontario. People’s lives are dependent on finding a solution.
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk