TORONTO — Ontario plans to spend up to $100 million to add 2,000 nurses to the long-term care sector over the next few years as part of a larger plan to beef up staffing levels and improve care for residents.
Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said Wednesday that the plan will support Ontario's commitment to increasing direct care for long-term care residents to four hours a day, on average.
Seniors entering long-term care are older and have more complex needs than a decade ago, Phillips said, and additional staff are needed to support them.
"The level of care those residents need has increased dramatically, but the amount of care they receive each day has not kept up," Phillips said at a news conference in Toronto.
The funding announced Wednesday will go towards several programs over the next four years – one will provide up to $6,000 a year in tuition for personal support workers to become registered practical nurses, and up to $10,000 a year in tuition to registered practical nurses to become registered nurses.
Participants will have to commit to working in long-term care for the same time period as they receive the tuition supports.
"This support will help address barriers people face when they want to further their education, and it's a win-win scenario," Phillips said. "More staff for long-term care, more educational and career opportunities for staff in long-term care."
The government is also aiming to increase access to nursing programs at publicly funded colleges. One stream through that program will offer up to $6,000 per year for internationally trained nurses to gain required work credentials in Ontario.
The Ontario Long-Term Care Association welcomed the news on career development strategies, highlighting in particular the plan to help internationally trained nurses work in the province.
CEO Donna Duncan said the sector is contending with a "critical shortage" of staff across all disciplines, with openings expected to grow in the next few years. The province's plans to create more beds in the sector need to take the staff shortage into consideration, she said.
"We ask that the development and implementation of all new policies consider the existing human resource challenges and the impact of new policy and programs on staff recruitment and retention," she said in a statement.
Wednesday's announcement was the latest of several leading up to legislation that's set to be introduced on Thursday. Phillips has said the legislation will set standards in long-term care, including the government's pledge that residents will receive four hours of direct care per day by 2025.
Earlier this week, Phillips announced plans to double the number of long-term care inspectors and to return to proactive inspections of homes, which the Progressive Conservative government scaled back on in 2018.
Phillips has also said an announcement will come this week on the future of wages for personal support workers. A temporary pandemic wage increase of $3 per hour is set to expire on Oct. 31.
Unions and other advocates have pointed to low wages as a key factor behind the staffing shortage plaguing the sector that saw widespread COVID-19 infections and deaths during the pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford has said he will make that wage increase permanent but hasn't said how or when that will happen.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press