Personal support workers (PSWs) or unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP) are paraprofessionals who help the sick, elderly, and those with mental and physical impairments by giving care services. They provide assistance with daily tasks and ensure that their clients experience a safe and comfortable life.
PSWs take and record vital signs such as blood pressure and respiration rate, document and report treatment and clinical details, and collect specimens for tests. They also help clients with their mobility needs and assist in personal hygiene routines, dressing wounds, feeding, motion exercises, and rehabilitative activities.
Needless to say, PSWs play an important role in the healthcare industry of Ontario. However, a report by the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) of Ontario states that Ontario is experiencing a shortage of PSWs and nurses, a problem that is expected to continue over the next six years.
The provincial government has been finding ways to raise Ontario’s PSWs and nursing workforce, but it appears that the problem is too difficult to solve right away. FAO projects that the province will be short of 33,000 nurses and PSWs by 2028.
This skills shortage is crucial because it can adversely affect the ability of Ontario’s healthcare sector to sustain existing care programs and the expansion of services to accommodate the expected increase of patients and clients.
Just like in other parts of Canada, the healthcare system of Ontario has interdependent components. Staffing issues in some areas will definitely affect the rest. The lack of PSWs can endanger the ability of hospitals to take patients from emergency care and pile up the surgery queue and wait times.
Shortage of Personal Support Workers
Ontario is having a shortage of PSWs because of the aging population. The province’s training and hiring of PSWs are outpaced by the surge in demand. FAO says that even with the significant healthcare investment promised by the (Ontario Premier) Doug Ford government, it would be offset by the growing demand.
Premier Ford has downplayed the problem, calling the FAO report a mere “snapshot in time.” He says that there is a pending bill that would infuse more than 8 billion in funding for healthcare. Ford highlighted that his government has already made significant resource allocations, even saying that Ontario already broke records on nurse registration in 2022. However, Ontario NDP, the opposition party, expressed disagreement.
Ontario NDP’s France Gelinas said that Ford needs to provide equitable funding for healthcare services and support for healthcare workers. There are calls for more allocations to prepare for the consequences of an aging population and reduced care capacity.
The Aging Population Means an Increased Need for Personal Support Workers
Ontario’s population is increasingly getting older. According to Statistics Canada, the province is one of the largest urban centers with the highest percentage of elderly people. Also, Fraser Institute says that seniors will likely be around 24% of Ontario’s population by 2043.
A growing elderly population infers the need for more PSWs, since older people are more predisposed to illnesses, and their health challenges tend to be long-term or lifelong. There is a need to match the growing number of older people with more investments in assistive care.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case. In Ontario, there is a stagnation of home-care capacity and a reduction in long-term and hospital-care capacity compared to the 2019 to 2020 levels. FAO officer Peter Weltman notes that the capacity and skills shortages are likely to persist in the next several years.
The aging population will add more burden on Ontario’s finances as income growth slows and healthcare requirements increase. Fraser Institute projections suggest that the current trends in the province’s spending make it unlikely for Ontario to achieve a balanced budget before 2040.
PSW Shortage Portends Bigger Problems
The shortage of PSWs in Ontario has resulted in reduced access to assistive services, which impacts not only the elderly and those with physical and mental disabilities. It also affects the rest of the healthcare system. Healthcare facilities have a hard time moving patients out of emergency care and confinement without the assurance that there will be support staff to care for them.
Ontario is not the only province affected by the PSW shortage and the consequences of an aging population. Other provinces of Canada are dealing with similar challenges. This makes it harder to address the problem. Policymakers need to come up with more sensible solutions to avoid the worst-case scenario.