Workers and clients are being shortchanged by inefficient system

By: Dr. Peter Zalan – From The Frontlines

 | Jan 20, 2014 - 1:57 PM |
Ninety-six personal support workers (PSWs) from Sudbury are among 4,500 employees of Red Cross Care Partners (RCCP) who walked off the job Dec. 11, seeking better compensation and benefits.

RCCP is one of more than 25 organizations that have contracts with Community Care Access Centers across the province for the delivery of services. Their union, SEIU Healthcare and RCCP were to meet with an arbitrator Jan. 3.

Individuals who receive personal support services include the frail elderly, clients with dementia, individuals who choose to die at home, children with complex illnesses and adults of all ages with chronic conditions.

Visits can range from once or twice a week, to daily assistance for people who cannot get out of bed on their own. Many need help with bathing, dressing and toileting.

The Ontario government’s focus is increasingly on assisting the fragile elderly to live at home instead of institutional care. That is also the most cost-effective form of care.

So why does the provincial government compensate care provided in institutions at a decent level, but not when provided in the home?

Care provided in the home offers a poor wage, often only part-time work, poorly compensated travel time and travel costs, and little in the way of benefits and pensions.

People who have used homecare would be familiar with the following comments.

Home care agency to family: “Sorry, I’ve tried everyone, and cannot find a replacement PSW for you tonight. Nancy is no longer working for us.”

Family member to agency: “In our first six weeks with your agency, we have had 18 different PSWs in our home.”

The starting Red Cross Care Partners wage is $14.17 an hour; the maximum $15.02. There is no pension. The 34 cents a kilometre mileage allowance doesn’t cover driving costs.

Take home pay has actually decreased as the price of gasoline has increased. They are paid one minute of their hourly rate per three kilometres of travel. They would have to drive 180 kilometres per hour from client to client in order to break even.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject a tentative agreement that included an increase of 11 cents an hour, with no significant improvement in compensation for travel time, nor for meeting the full cost of gas for visiting clients.

Red Cross Care Partners are not out of line with other home care agencies in this regard.

The poor compensation has contributed to high staff turnover. Many staff do not attend education courses. Cambrian College offers an excellent program for personal support workers, but has difficulty attracting participants.

What is the answer?

Personal support workers look after the most vulnerable in our society. Our society needs to respect the individuals who provide this essential service and reward them appropriately.

Our mothers and fathers deserve educated, motivated, high-quality caregivers.

Dr. Peter Zalan is president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North.

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