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An organization representing Ontario home-care providers says the same factors leading to staffing shortages throughout the workforce have left the already beleaguered sector in crisis.

Home Care Ontario says that before the COVID-19 pandemic, providers fulfilled requests for care 95 per cent of the time.

As of Dec. 31, 2021, the agency says, that number had dropped to just 56 per cent.

Home Care Ontario says some 4,000 nurses have left the home-care sector since the onset of the pandemic.

It says the situation is even more dire given the high number of staff absences as workers are exposed to or infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The organization says the shortage is also putting added strain on Ontario’s hospital system, as the latest numbers from the province show 582 patients would be eligible to leave hospital with publicly funded home care, were the resources available.

“We’re being deluged with calls and we do not have the staff to respond,” said Sue VanderBent, CEO of Home Care Ontario. “There are no longer enough nurses and personal support workers in the system to provide people with the help they need at home.”

The organization said staff in the sector are paid less than their equivalents in other parts of the health-care system, though they perform similar work.

For example, personal support workers are paid at least $5 per hour more if they work in long-term care homes or hospitals, Home Care Ontario said.

The agency, whose members employ 28,000 health-care workers across Ontario, is urging the government to pour $460 million into the sector to remove “wage inequities that have worsened a pre-existing staffing crisis.”

“Government needs to do everything in its power now to ensure the province is not in a similar situation during future waves of the pandemic,” VanderBent said. “That begins with prioritizing home-care funding to help stabilize this essential pillar of our health-care system.”

In its fall economic outlook, released in early November, the provincial government pledged an additional $549 million over three years to home and community care to expand home-care services, funding an estimated 28,000 post-acute surgical patients and up to 21,000 patients with complex health conditions.

The government said it would help in providing nursing and therapy visits and personal support services.

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