Long-term care residents across the province will be seeing an increase in the hours they receive direct care.

Today (Monday), the Ontario government announced that each resident will see an average of four hours per day, up from just under the three hours they receive now.

The announcement was made in advance of the release of the province’s 2020 budget, on November 5.

This new commitment to improve quality of care includes:

– Average daily direct care of four hours a day per resident. Direct hands-on care is provided by nurses or personal support workers to support individual clinical and personal care needs.

– Hard targets set over the next four years to achieve this standard by 2024-25. Progress against these targets will be measured and reported regularly.

– Unprecedented changes to educate and recruit tens of thousands of new personal support workers, registered practical nurses, and registered nurses that will be required. As part of the province’s COVID-19 Fall Preparedness Plan, the province is taking the first step by recruiting an additional 3,700 frontline workers for its health workforce.

Merilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, says it’s one of the most important changes to long-term care in the history of the province. She adds the four hours of care is a monumental commitment and training tens of thousands of new personal support workers and nurses will be required.

“As a physician of almost 30 years, starting back in the ’80s and in long-term care, it was very clear that there were many shortcomings. Putting residents at the center of care, it’s going to require 10s of thousands of staff. The announcement today is an ambitious plan, but it’s one that we absolutely have to work together with multiple governments making sure multiple ministries are involved. We really have to make sure LTC is integrated with our acute care system.[…] We’ll also be working with colleges to make sure we’ll have the ability to train PSWs, nurses, and registered practical nurses.”

Fullerton says that the four-year target for hiring and training staff is due to a current staffing crisis.

“Even when we first became a ministry of long-term care in the summer of 2019, we were hearing from the sector of a staffing crisis. We’re taking two different approaches; one is the longer-term approach. Four hours of care, and the tens of thousands of staff that will need to be hired through rapid training programs, through the return of service programs and making sure we retain the workers that come to the homes and improving their experience whether it’s creating a more team-like environment, career laddering and creating an environment that they want to work. We have to change in that regard.”

The other prong, Fullerton says, is the measures taken through COVID-19.

“Whether it’s making staffing more flexible for the home, so they can attract more staff, or the $240 million in emergency funding at the beginning of the pandemic, or almost the 3/4 of a billion dollars, including the $540 million we started a few weeks ago… This is all funding that supports our plan. It’s one thing to have a plan, it’s another thing to make sure the dollars are being put behind it. No doubt, to create tens of thousands of new workers is an ambitious plan. But the problems were a long time festering in long-term care  and our government is really the first government to address this in a profound and meaningful way with four hours of direct care.”

Fullerton says that looking back, she knew that the long-term care sector needed this kind of help.

“Specifically and especially in the last 10 years. I believe in many instances… governments often work with the emergencies they have at hand. This was building very, very quietly in communities across Ontario where the waitlists were growing. 38,000 people on a waitlist and this accumulated over many years. This took a long time to get to the point of neglect that it did. I can’t speak for other governments but I can tell you that our government is committed to addressing this. We understand the sense of urgency. This is for all the people waiting for long-term care; their families and their loved ones. I know what it is to be on that end personally having loved ones who have needed care. I also know professionally as a physician.

Fullerton wants Ontarians to know how important residents receiving four hours of care is.

“It’s unprecedented. We’re going to need thousands and thousands of new workers and we have a plan for that. It’s a generational problem and we’re committed to finding the solution,” she finished.