The Ontario government has announced they will be providing a $2 to $3 temporary wage increase to over 147,000 personal support workers and workers who provide other personal support services in health care settings.
The wage increase is effective as of Oct. 1 and will be reviewed on a regular basis, but could extend through March 31, 2021.
The province said the temporary raise will cost $461 million.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said any PSW who works in a publicly funded organization is eligible for the raise.
The breakdown of the wage increase is $2 for any eligible workers in public hospitals and $3 for those who work in home and community care, long-term care and those who work in children, community and social services providing personal direct support services for the activities of daily living.
Advocates in the long-term care and home care sectors have said low pay has contributed to PSW shortages before and during the pandemic.
“This wage increase recognizes the important role that PSWs perform in our society, and elevate some pressures currently born by this workforce. This is a great start to what we hope is permanent change for all personal support workers in Ontario,” Miranda Ferrier, president of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, said in a statement.
The union that represents PSWs in the province called the announcement encouraging but said the variability in wages will result in ongoing instability across the healthcare system.
“We are encouraged that for the first time since his election, Premier Ford is finally recognizing he has not done enough to give low-wage healthcare workers the support they deserve for a system in crisis,” SEIU Healthcare president Sharleen Stewart said.
“PSWs deserve a permanent wage increase and universal rates no matter which sector they work because a PSW is a PSW is a PSW. It is simply unfair to lure them along in six-month increments, while leaving Bill 124 intact.”
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath called for full-time jobs and better pay for all PSWs.
“PSWs are run off their feet, doing incredibly challenging work. Their jobs take a massive physical, mental and emotional toll. They deserve a permanent wage increase, full-time jobs, and benefits. And the people they care for deserve for them to have that stability, too,” said Horwath.
Horwath also called pandemic pay for all essential workers during the second wave of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, four major home-care providers are asking the Ontario government to increase support for their sector, saying it would reduce pressure on a health-care system burdened by COVID-19.
The companies — Bayshore HealthCare, Closing the Gap Healthcare, VON Canada, and SE Health – said bolstering home care will allow long-term care homes and hospitals to operate more efficiently.
The group has launched a campaign — dubbed Bring Health Home — Thursday on their call for support.
The CEO of Closing the Gap Healthcare says COVID-19 transmission rates in home-care settings are much lower than in congregate care.
Leighton McDonald said by focusing on community-care, the province can help keep more people safe from the virus.
According to provincial data through the height of the first wave of COVID-19 until the end of May, there were 235 virus cases related to home care, compared to 4,518 in long-term care homes.
“What didn’t happen early in the pandemic was home care wasn’t seen as a as a critical alternative to much of the institutional care,” McDonald said.
“Had that happened, we would have seen many more people cared for outside of settings that could have been potentially hazardous.”
McDonald said the coalition is hoping to build public support for increased wages and stability for workers in the home-care sector, who he said are often paid less than their colleagues in hospitals and long-term care.
“We’d like to see more people on full time salaries, and have stable employment, so that they can actually earn a living and work with one employer,” he said.
Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network, has been advocating for an overhaul for the home-care system for years.
Sinha said more than 38,000 Ontarians are on wait lists to get into long-term care because there isn’t enough access to home care.
But the cost to care for someone in long-term care is $180 a day, compared to $103 a day in the home care system, he said.
“When we don’t actually have enough home and community care available it puts incredible pressures on our hospitals and it also creates incredible pressure on a nursing home system, which is expensive to run,” he said.
Sinha said keeping people out of congregate care settings, where COVID-19 has killed more than 1,830 people during the pandemic is an important strategy and will help the province address capacity issues in long-term care and hospitals.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report