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Ontario LTCs brought in entry-level assistants during the pandemic. Will they play a role in nursing homes’ future?

Ontario LTCs brought in entry-level assistants during the pandemic. Will they play a role in nursing homes’ future?
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As nursing homes prepare for pandemic emergency orders to wind down, operators want a permanent role for new, lower-paid workers — although some advocates question the value of inexperienced staff around vulnerable residents.

Called “resident support assistants,” the entry-level job was approved by a “temporary” order in March 2020, part of the Emergency Order and Civil Protection Act. Now, more than 18 months later, the Ontario Long-Term Care Association wants the government to enshrine the role in its new legislation.

“They’re not doing direct (hands-on) care,” said Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents for-profit and not-for-profit homes. “They’re supporting — doing COVID screening, delivering snacks, taking linens, watering plants or holding iPads so a resident can have a virtual visit with their family member.”

The 2007 Long-Term Care Homes Act with a promise of four hours of direct daily care by 2025 and tougher oversight, even though the government doesn’t always enforce the rules that exist. Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips has promised to hire 27,000 workers to meet those daily care staffing requirements.

Released on Thursday, the OLTCA submission for changes to the Act cites roughly 50 recommendations, although Duncan said they are still being refined.

Among the changes suggested, the OLTCA wants legislation to recognize the role and rights of the “essential caregiver,” many of whom provide hours of care and emotional support for their loved ones. It is calling for stricter accountability with “stepped, transparent penalties for neglect and abuse, leading up to license removal.”

And it aligned with Advantage Ontario, which represents not-for-profit, municipal and charitable homes, calling for legislation that supports residents’ individual, emotional and cultural needs over the current system that focuses on the completion of tasks instead of people. The Ontario Long-Term Care Commission into COVID-19 said the government should support and fund people-first models and philosophies in homes.

Advantage Ontario’s CEO Lisa Levin said association also wants resident support workers, calling the job designation “a great option that many homes have used during the pandemic to help improve the quality of care.
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