By AMARACHI AMADIKE
In the lead up to the Ontario government’s throne speech on Tuesday, Aug. 9, one of Toronto’s largest social service agencies is sounding the alarm on the state of the province’s community care service sector.
According to WoodGreen Community Services, which serves about 40,000 people annually, current health trends depict a decline in essential staff such as Personal Support Workers. This issue, which affects not only hospitals but home and community care as well, is due to lack of government funding.
“Ahead of the Ontario government’s throne speech and new mandate next week, WoodGreen Community Services calls for further government investment into the most cost-effective care and client-desired sector, which is community care services,” WoodGreen stated in a press release on Aug. 4.
Although inflation rates have increased cost-of-living in the past decade, many community care service organizations have not received an updated budget which reflects the changes during this time period.
Ontario’s proposed 2022 budget of $100 million was intended to provide additional funding to expand community care programs. The proposal did not pass before June’s provincial election which saw the Progressive Conservatives win a second majority government, however, halting plans for improved adult day programs, meal services, transportation, assisted living services, and caregiver support.
“This short-term funding would help enhance sustainability for community services but much more is needed,” WoodGreen’s press release stated.
A fraction of the failed budget proposal could also have helped to repair the sector’s compensation inequalities as home and community Personal Service Workers earn less than those in long-term care and hospitals. Also, policies such as Bill 124, which limits annual salary increases to one per cent for various parts of the public sector, has led to many workers leaving their positions and recruiters having difficulties filling these vacancies.
Also expressing some of the same concerns as WoodGreen is Ontario’s NDP. In an Aug. 5 press release, the Official Opposition party urged Premier Doug Ford and his ruling Progressive Conservative party to construct a new budget that “deals with the healthcare crisis” as well as the “exploding inflation”.
“Let’s have a budget that helps everyday, middle class working families,” said NDP Deputy Leader and Scarborough Southwest MPP Doly Begum.
“We want the throne speech and budget to take action to end the hospital crisis, including scrapping Bill 124, lifting up wages, fixing working conditions, accrediting tens of thousands of internationally educated professionals and launching a hiring and training blitz to start right now,” she said.
WoodGreen said that investment in the sector is vital for social service organizations to continue to expand and run programs and services that improve the physical, social and mental well-being of clients. A Campaign Research Inc. survey revealed that nearly 90 per cent of seniors would prefer to stay at home and remain out of the long-term care system.
Investing in community care services, according to WoodGreen, ensures clients can stay at home and in the community receiving care for as long as possible.
“Expanding assisted living, community-based services and cluster care models for seniors can help alleviate pressure off hospitals by reducing the number of patients waiting in hospitals for care settings that are able to meet their needs,” said Kevin Edmonson, Vice President of Community Care and Senior Wellness with WoodGreen.
“However, a prolonged long-term plan with appropriate sector funding is necessary to improve the overall scope of senior wellness and community care.”
Reports from WoodGreen’s provincially funded programs suggest that these services are in great demand. Earlier this year, their Crisis Outreach Support Service (COSS) surpassed its target of 1,550 clients served, reaching a record high of 2,012 clients. Last year, the Toronto Seniors Helpline anticipated 18,000 calls however the helpline received 49,780 calls–triple its target. Without proper support from Ontario’s government, said WoodGreen, the demands for these essential services will remain difficult to sustain.