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Guelph Mercury

Thu Mar 1 2012

Page: A1

Section: NEWS

Byline: Rob O’Flanagan, Mercury staff

Fiscal restraint may be in the air in Ontario, but that should not motivate the provincial government to further starve the province’s long-term care system, representatives from the Canadian Union of Public Employees said Wednesday in Guelph.

CUPE has renewed its call to boost personal care hours in the system to three and a half hours per day – a standard long sought by the union, and long avoided by the province. “The government’s priority is not investing in long-term care,” said Michael Hurley, president of CUPE‘s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

Nine years ago, the McGuinty Liberal government made overtures to improve levels of care in the long-term care system, but has done no such thing. “Nothing has happened,” Hurley said, adding that a $200 million investment would “make an enormous difference in terms of care in the sector.”

Adding one extra person per shift would greatly enhance care, he said.

Estimates are that the average amount of personal care in long-term care facilities now stands at under two hours a day, barely enough to tend in a timely fashion to the physical needs of long-term care patients, let alone their emotional, mental and spiritual needs, say people like Irene Fitzpatrick, a registered practical nurse at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph.

She has worked in the system for 23 years and said the level of care has been whittled away over the past 15 or so years, first by the Mike Harris government back in 1996.

The McGuinty Liberals promised to restore what Harris clawed back but have failed to do so over the past decade, Fitzpatrick said.

“I have no problem asking, demanding or even begging this of our government,” she said.

Fitzpatrick and Hurley were part of a “3.5 Hours of Care” campaign stop in Guelph on Wednesday.

Fitzpatrick said for-profit companies are “squeezing profit” out of their operations by reducing the level of individual care in facilities.

“Through the years I’ve seen firsthand how quality of care suffers when companies squeeze profit out of care,” Fitzpatrick said.

“What happens is a need for profit takes the resources away from the actual hands-on care.”

There used to be a condition that long-term care residents had to be able to walk into facilities. Now many of them have much more complex medical needs and are often people who have been transferred from hospitals via ambulance to long-term care facilities out of a need to take pressure off hospitals.

“You’ve got a much higher level of acuity in a system that has the same staff complement,” said Hurley, adding that fixed resources are shifted to deal with problem areas, but no new resources are added.

With a three-and-a-half-hour standard of care, caregivers would have the time to tend to the specific needs of residents when the need arises, not when time permits, Fitzpatrick indicated.

The new standard of care would ensure higher staffing levels, and a better quality of life and higher standard of dignity for residents.

“Our residents deserve their dignity,” Fitzpatrick said.

“3.5 hours of care per day, if you really think about it in a 24-hour period, is that too much to ask for.”

Hurley said workers in the system are exhausted, exasperated and frustrated because they are not able to provide the care that residents need and deserve.

“They are finding the situation very difficult,” he said.

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© 2012 Torstar Corporation