Ontario's Health Minister is promising a quick fix to problems that are holding up a pay raise for personal support workers, and says further changes are on the way to improve the home-care system.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins, responding to a report in The Globe on Monday, said the government plans to announce the next $1.50-an-hour increase "very soon," as well as other reforms.
"I think you will see in the near future, as well, we are going to be making some additional reforms to home and community care that will help to improve and streamline – whether it's the work PSWs are doing or others."
A $4-an-hour increase over three years was first promised by the Liberal government last year. An investigation by The Globe and Mail found the Liberal government has indefinitely delayed the second phase of its "wage enhancement," originally set to take effect April 1, while it scrambles to fix problems encountered in implementing the first part of the wage increase last year.
The investigation also found that 27 mostly non-profit health-care agencies across the province are refusing to accept the government-funded increase and pass it on to their workers, while one of the largest private-sector employers of personal support workers in Ontario cut what it pays in mileage and travel time just after the first phase of the raise kicked in last fall, leaving some employees worse off than they were before the wage-enhancement program began.
The raise also has been more expensive than expected, costing the province at least $77.8-million in 2014-15, well above the $50-million earmarked for the first year of the pledge.
Mr. Hoskins said he was surprised by the difficulties his government has encountered in implementing the wage hike. "I certainly wouldn't have predicted that this was as complicated as its turned out to be in some regards," he said.
The increase, when it is implemented, will be retroactive to April 1.
Personal support workers deliver more than half of all home-care services, helping clients to dress, bathe, prepare meals, tidy up and manage medications, among other tasks, yet they generally make less and face more unpredictable schedules than their counterparts working in hospitals and nursing homes. Stabilizing the industry is key to provincial plans to shift an increasing portion of the care for the sick and the elderly out of expensive hospitals and long-term care facilities and into the home.
Those efforts are being jeopardized by delays to the long-promised raises, opposition politicians said Monday.
"This has been rolled out so poorly that it has created even more disarray in the home-care system," said NDP health critic France Gélinas.
Without the promised increase, Ms. Gélinas said personal support workers will continue to leave the home-care sector, causing hardship for their clients. "At the end of the day, the most vulnerable in our community are the ones who end up stripping naked in front of a stranger every week because a different PSW comes and gives them their bath," she said.
Bill Walker, the deputy health critic for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, called delaying the second phase of the PSW wage increase, "unacceptable."
"[This is] yet another case of the Liberals breaking a promise," he said. "I mean they came out and basically said anything they could to get re-elected. They now have gone back on their word again … they set the expectation high for those [PSWs] and now they're not coming through, once again."
Mr. Walker was particularly incensed at the Health Minister's admission that the Liberals did not fully understand the complexities of the home-care work force or how those workers were paid before promising them a $4-an-hour wage hike just two days before introducing a budget that was ultimately defeated, triggering last June's election.
"You would think they would have done their homework and actually had this stuff planned before they run out and try to make a big media-press thing and look like they're heroes all over the place," Mr. Walker added.