TORONTO — 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 — say 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 — today 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 says 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.
Hamilton resident Barbara Weigelt and her 78-year-old husband accessed home-care services and support the calls to boost the sector.
Weigelt said her husband had a series of health problems over several years including a heart surgery and a stroke. With the support of a registered nurse at home, and on-call after-hours care, they were able to manage.
"I consider it a lifesaver," she said. "If we hadn't had that opportunity I don't think we could have managed."
On Thursday, the Ontario government announced that it was giving pay raises to personal support workers throughout the health-care system in a bid to recruit and retain them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford said about 147,000 workers in long-term care, hospitals, and community care are eligible for the increase. Personal support workers in long-term care and community care will be eligible for a $3 an hour pay increase, while personal support workers in hospitals will see a $2 an hour pay hike.
The temporary increase begins Thursday and will expire in March 2021, costing the government $461 million. Ford said he has not ruled out continuing the pay raise next year.
The Ministry of Health said in a statement that it is increasing community care capacity to relieve pressures on the rest of the health-care system.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press