Historically, home and community care services have suffered due to a lack of funding, and difficulties surrounding staff retention and pay equity. In April, Ontario released its budget for 2022, highlighting areas where funding will be allocated to health and community care initiatives. Although it will be re-tabled, we have some thoughts on the current budget allocations. Before sharing our insights, it is important to understand more about this area of the health system and how it impacts the communities around you.
What is Home and Community Care?
Home and community care services help people receive care at home as opposed to in a hospital or long-term care institution, allowing them to live as independently for as long as possible. WoodGreen offers seniors, people with disabilities and/or complex medical needs integrated care services through multiple cost-effective programs that ultimately enable clients to avoid institutionalized care.
WoodGreen’s Senior Wellness Department provides personal support as well as social programs, allowing seniors to receive care from the comfort of their homes and age in place. For example, The Meals on Wheels Program tackles food insecurity by delivering hot and frozen meals to seniors and adults with disabilities, ultimately supporting independent living. Further, the meals on wheels volunteers provide at-home security and wellness checks and cultivate access to community services. WoodGreen offers a plethora of other programs such as The Seniors Day Programs, The Transportation Program, and many more assisted living and home care programs that the organization is committed to expanding.
According to the Ontario Community Support Association (OSCA), 91% of seniors would prefer to stay at home if they were on a waitlist for a long-term care facility. It is also critical to note that 85% of Ontario doctors surveyed stated that increased access to home care would improve health outcomes for their patients or allow them to remain in their homes longer.
Many home and community care organizations have not received a cost-of-living increase in over a decade. Many organizations continue to need funding for the stability of these programs as well as support with staff levels. Home and Community care PSWs are essential for the advancements of these community-based programs, yet their attrition rates are high and continue to worsen, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the government made a $3 hourly wage increase for PSWs who work in the home and community care sector. Unfortunately, what remains a challenge is compensation inequalities, since PSWs in home and community care earn less than long-term care and hospital PSWs despite the wage increase. Home and community care providers’ ability to recruit workers is being stunted by policies such as Bill 124, Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. The legislation poses a constraint to annual wages and benefits and does not allow for workers to get more than a 1% raise.
What The Ontario Government is Proposing
With the recent election keeping the current government in power, it is critical to review commitments made in the budget that were released prior to the election. This budget titled Ontario’s Plan to Build, did not pass in the legislature and recently Premier Ford announced that it will be re-tabled with a few changes. The 2022 budget made the following commitments for the home and community care sector:
- Home care investments of $1 billion over the next three years, in addition to the $550 million from last year, ultimately allowing seniors to live at home. We have limited details on this allocation but it is likely that it will go toward rate adjustments as well as service volume expansions.
- Community Support Services investment of nearly $100 million over the next three years. This year, the investment will include a 2% base increase to address operational pressures and approximately $10 million in service expansion.
- $142 million in 2022/23 to recruit and retain healthcare workers in underserved communities, beginning with an $81 million investment this year. The Ontario government did commit to working toward permanent wage enhancements for PSWs and DSWs with a $2.8 billion investment in the next 3 years.
What This Means for Home and Community Care Services
Although promising to see these investments made for the sector, $100 million over three years across Ontario is not enough to maintain the expansion of assisted living and senior care, especially since WoodGreen is committed to making these expansions. Furthermore, although helpful, many agencies are still restrained from raising staff salaries due to Bill 124. Retention of staff continues to be an issue and although the training initiatives are supporting recruitment, it does not address pay equity.
The current budget allocations are noteworthy, but there is still room to improve the lives of community care staff and the people they serve. We continue to advocate the following from our current elected government:
- Focus on a strategy to retain community staff, which includes addressing pay equity
- Develop a human resource plan to increase the health and community staffing workforce
- Stop limiting home and community care non-profits’ ability to increase staff wages and invest in the sector so agencies may increase wages
Additionally, we continue to advocate the significance of investing in both home care and community support services collectively.
We appreciate the government’s effort to provide a permanent PSW wage increase and propose further steps to expand the workforce. However, PSWs in home and community care still remain the lowest paid in the entire health system. We will continue to advocate for wage parity to the elected government and further home and community care sector investment. Further sector funding will help WoodGreen remain competitive in the labour market and pay our front-line workers the wages they deserve.