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Toronto Star

She was let go from the long-term-care home she worked at for more than 25 years. She says it’s because she complained about conditions at the home

Jan 16, 2021 12:33:00 PM

1 anne marie scheuneman main she was let go from the long term care home she worked at for more than 25 years she says its because she complained about conditions at the home 16 01 2021 gta news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

A personal support worker who worked at an Extendicare long-term-care home says she was let go from her job after she raised concerns about the quality of care her patients received.

Anne-Marie Scheuneman told the Star that she was fired after she brought forward allegations about how a lack of staff, cost-cutting measures and an overall culture of fear and intimidation by senior-level management led to a decrease in the quality of life for residents at Extendicare Peterborough — long before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Scheuneman worked at Extendicare Peterborough for more than 25 years.

A spokesperson for Extendicare told the Star that Scheuneman’s dismissal was not related to the allegations she raised about the quality of care patients received.

The Star has viewed a notice of termination issued to Scheuneman on May 3, 2019 that specifies she was let go for “inappropriate and insubordinate behaviour,” as well as “disparaging and inappropriate comments.”

Extendicare acknowledged that complaints were made by Scheuneman about the quality of patient care.

“We worked closely with the local union in this process, which ultimately chose to withdraw its complaint. Sometime later, a similar anonymous complaint was made to the College of Nurses and Ministry of Labour which resulted in investigations conducted by both bodies. Their conclusions also determined the allegations were without merit.”

The spokesperson added that while the company does “not typically speak on issues regarding former employees, it is important we make clear that these allegations are false.”

Scheuneman’s dismissal led to a grievance with her union, SEIU Healthcare, she said. In order to be reinstated to her position, Scheuneman was told she must write an apology letter to management — something she refused. She did not return to the home.

Extendicare, which has 111 owned and managed homes across Canada, according to the company’s corporate profile, has come under scrutiny like other for-profit operators, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents in for-profit homes are more likely than residents in not-for-profit facilities to catch the virus.

The situation in Ontario’s care homes has continued to worsen, and as of Saturday, 3,112 long-term-care residents have died since the pandemic began.

Under former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’s government, minimum staffing levels for nursing homes were removed, leading to some facilities experiencing a shortage of support workers.

Scheuneman described instances where baths for residents were recorded in patient documents, but were never performed due to shortages in the number of staff available for shifts. PSWs at Extendicare Peterborough were not given flexibility for when tasks could be performed, and an overall lack of staff meant there were not enough people to perform every piece of resident care that was required, she said.

The Star spoke with a current Extendicare Peterborough employee, as well as a former one, who worked alongside Scheuneman and both agreed that this was the case. “I know for a fact that (some baths) didn’t get done,” the current employee said.

Neither are being named by the Star due to concerns about reprisals.

The Star asked Extendicare about allegations that patient care, including proper bathing, was not always performed. A spokesperson for the company said “the allegations outlined in your email are not reflective of the findings from multiple investigations by the local union, the College of Nurses and Ministry of Labour. Their conclusions determined the allegations were without merit.”

Scheuneman, along with both the former and current Extendicare Peterborough employees, spoke about a culture of fear among staff of upper-level management. After new management was brought in more than four years ago, Scheuneman and the other two PSWs allege they were berated and yelled at while on shift.

Extendicare’s spokesperson told the Star, “Extendicare Peterborough’s resident satisfaction survey is consistently strong and staff surveys are clearly supportive of management.”

Scheuneman also said under the new management she felt Extendicare was working with lighter staffing and “trying to get as much out of us as they possibly could in a shift — but there’s only so much a person can give physically in a seven-and-a-half hour shift,” Scheuneman said.

“Most of the staff were giving up their breaks, coming in early, staying late. Extendicare was given a lot of free hours, and it still wasn’t meeting the mark” for patient care, she said.

The Extendicare spokesperson said that the home “had a full staffing complement” through Scheuneman’s employment.

The Star has found job postings for personal support workers at the care home listed as recently as Dec. 9, 2020.

“We are always recruiting new team members and continue to add further resources to increase support for residents and staff in the home,” Extendicare’s spokesperson said.

Requests made by the Star through Extendicare to interview management at the home directly were not granted.

The current employee said that Extendicare management does not listen to concerns from staff about the quality of care. “If you go down and say this should be done or that should be done … (they) don’t want to hear it. They want to hear everything’s run (smoothly).”

Extendicare’s spokesperson said staff in all homes are encouraged to come to management with any concerns and suggestions so that they can be addressed immediately.

Scheuneman’s time at Extendicare Peterborough led her to experience anxiety and significant weight loss, and take a seven-month leave of absence to handle the stress following a panic attack while on shift, she said.

“I’m not disgruntled,” Scheuneman said of her decision to come forward about her experiences.

“I’m just really concerned as a citizen.”

Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon

A long-term-care PSW needs to work 50 hours a week or more to afford the cost of living in Toronto. A look at the numbers

Jan 16, 2021 7:00:00 AM

psw pay alternative option a long term care psw needs to work 50 hours a week or more to afford the cost of living in toronto a look at the numbers 16 01 2021 gta news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

In order for a personal support worker employed in a long-term-care home to make ends meet in Toronto, they’d have to clock at least 50 hours every week.

Here’s how the numbers break down: PSWs in unionized long-term-care homes start at about $20.80 per hour, and can earn up to about $22 hourly. If they are paid for 37.5 hours of work per week, they will gross $40,560 in a year at the starting rate, but the take home after tax is closer to $32,000.

But this is over $10,000 short of the 2020 cost of living in Toronto, estimated by lowestrates.ca. The insurance company found that for a single person renting a one-bedroom apartment, the cost of living is close to $42,500.

Meanwhile, in 2015, $55,117 was the median income for single-adult households in Toronto, according to Statistics Canada, which is just below the amount needed to meet the cost of living today, after tax.

Someone earning that amount would only have to put in about 20 extra hours over the course of a year to make ends meet — less than half an hour a week.

Cost of living can be greater too if the person is supporting a family, and it would be even more challenging if the person is the sole breadwinner for their household.

Long-term-care homes have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, shedding light on a system that has been dysfunctional for years. With cases and deaths climbing in the sector, the need to address ongoing issues has been made all the more urgent.

In Ottawa, a COVID-19 outbreak in a women’s shelter was linked to two long-term-care workers who were staying in the facility because they could no longer afford rent with their income.

Where PSWs are concerned, there is no oversight body, like there is for nurses, which advocates say has caused issues with low pay, precarious work and high turnover.

Matthew Cathmoir, the head of strategic research at the Service Employees International Union which represents health-care workers in Ontario, said PSWs wind up working as much overtime as possible to supplement their income.

“They accept as much overtime as possible; they’ll work doubles. So, they’ll work a 16-hour shift, which is unsustainable ... it’s incredibly difficult work — hard on the body, hard on the mind (but) they have to do it,” he said.

Many PSWs also had more than one job, which was restricted during the pandemic to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Pandemic pay has offered a $3 per hour wage bump for eligible long-term-care workers, but Cathmoir notes that there have been challenges with the rollout.

All the while, in a recent survey the SEIU posed to its members working in long-term care, 92 per cent of the 700 or so respondents reported feeling overworked and understaffed during the pandemic.

“It’s difficult work. It’s dangerous,” Cathmoir said. “It takes a special type of person to work, specifically, and that goes for all (health-care positions).”

Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: afrancis@thestar.ca

Uptake for the COVID-19 vaccine has been high among Toronto’s long-term-care home residents. For staff, not so much

Jan 16, 2021 7:00:00 AM

vaccine uptake for the covid 19 vaccine has been high among torontos long term care home residents for staff not so much 16 01 2021 gta news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

They’re on the front-line of the COVID-19 pandemic, among the most at risk, and one of the first priorities for the rollout of the vaccine.

But vaccine uptake among employees of city-run long-term-care homes in Toronto has been spotty, and a lack of hard numbers in other regions is making it difficult to know exactly how many are on their way to being protected.

On Friday, the city announced a milestone, that vaccines have been administered at all long-term-care homes, ahead of next week’s goal. But according to Toronto Public Health, less than half, or 43 per cent, of the roughly 3,000 workers in city-owned homes have received the first dose of the vaccine or given consent to be vaccinated at an upcoming clinic. That’s compared to 91 per cent of residents within the city homes who opted to get the voluntary jab.

Sabina Vohra-Miller, the co-founder of the Toronto-based Vohra Miller Foundation, and a member of the South Asian Health Network, who has written about vaccine hesitancy, also believes some long-standing issues are at play.

“If you want a good vaccine uptake you need to make it accessible, because putting any barrier to it is just going to work against you,” she said.

A lack of paid sick days for possible minor vaccine side effects (such as temporary headache), as well as the fact that clinics are only during the daytime, can make it tough for the mostly female, racialized, low-paid and precarious workforce to access the shots, added Vohra-Miller.

Vaccines were first available only at hospital sites, and even now that teams are going into homes to administer them, part-time and shift workers are not always there when they arrive, she added. That means they may be left having to go to a vaccine clinic on their day off, or after a long shift, which can be difficult without child care.

The Toronto figures do not include privately owned nursing homes. At Copernicus Lodge, which has now been taken over by Unity Health Toronto to help with an outbreak, only 22 per cent of staff have been vaccinated, said Unity Health spokesperson Jennifer Stranges in an email. The hospital network is running an additional vaccine clinic this weekend with the hope more staff will roll up their sleeves.

The province’s goal was to vaccinate all residents and staff in Peel, York, Windsor-Essex and Toronto by Jan. 21. A spokesperson for the ministry said the vaccinations are now also “complete” in Windsor, in addition to Toronto.

Over 53,000 vaccinations have been administered to health-care workers in long-term-care homes and retirement homes, and more than 21,000 vaccinations administered to residents, the spokesperson added. He added that “to date, the uptake has been very positive.”

A letter from Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams and the deputy minister of long-term care to LTC homes, dated Thursday, acknowledged that “vaccine hesitancy may be a concern in some settings.” It offered some tips to dealing with this, such as identifying “peer champions” who can help build trust, holding town halls for questions, and paying staff for time if they need to be vaccinated outside of their working hours.

Peel Public Health did not have an official tally for how many LTC employees had gotten the shots, but, according to its COVID dashboard, 5,494 doses have been administered in the region’s long-term-care and retirement homes.

Salil Arya, president of CUPE Local 966, which represents almost 1,000 workers at four municipal long-term-care homes in Peel, said for his members,“it’s not the mistrust of a vaccine, it’s the mistrust with the employer and with the government.”

Many part-timers are “struggling” to “make ends meet” now that they can’t move between homes (an emergency order was put in place to prevent the spread of COVID between facilities in the spring). And many feel the province and the city haven’t had their backs, he said.

Vohra-Miller, who runs a science and health blog and spends hours combating vaccine misinformation on social media, also thinks tailored messages in different languages answering specific questions and concerns about the vaccine would go a long way, including in Peel’s large South Asian community.

For example, given the largely female workforce, she said she’s spoken to many personal support workers who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant and have questions about the vaccine. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can choose to get it, but should discuss this with their doctors as these groups weren’t included in the vaccine safety trials.

In many racialized communities, including her own Punjabi one, “there is distrust with health care,” Vohra-Miller said.

And it’s an uphill battle to fight COVID misinformation that is rampant on both WhatsApp groups and some Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu TV and radio shows.

But it’s hard to tell how big an issue it is, because the data is not being collected properly, in a way that shows exactly how many long-term-care workers in each region are taking a pass on the vaccine.

“If you don’t see the problem you can’t fix the problem,” she said.

In York, public health spokesperson, Teresa Vader, said in an email, as of Tuesday 841 doses had been given to staff and essential caregivers in long-term-care homes in the region. But this does not include the doses administered at the hospital sites. There are approximately 4,660 long-term-care staff in York Region.

According to a survey from the Canadian PSW Network, about 65 per cent of respondents said they would get the vaccine, but 16 per cent said no (others were unsure).

Ian Da Silva, director of operations at the Canadian Support Worker Association and Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, said there’s hesitancy about the vaccine “across the board,” regardless of language or cultural background.

As the industry is unregulated, it’s harder to get consistent messaging out and track who’s got the vaccine where, he added.

Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative-care physician who works in LTC homes in the GTA, said he’s been hearing a huge range of uptake, as low as 20 per cent in some homes and as high as 70 per cent in others. Where it’s been higher, it tends to be because leadership have taken it on themselves to hold meetings with staff and answer questions.

He believes the rollout needs to be “refined” so that more local doctors and nurses are engaged. An ideal model would see them going from home to home with refrigerated trucks, and, if workers are initially hesitant or unsure, answering their questions and even giving them time to think about it.

“They’re feeling sacrificed and they’re feeling very vulnerable,” Arya said of long-term-care workers, noting recent deaths among them in the province.

“The rollout, the shipments, that’s one thing, but we need to have uptake, on the other end, for this to work.”

May Warren is a Toronto-based breaking news reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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