Long Term Care & a Workforce Summit

“The Long Term Care System is Strained but not Broken.”

So states one of the findings in the July 31, 2019 Ontario report – Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long-Term Care Homes System.

If you are not familiar with this major Canadian story, the report stems from the horrific story involving nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer who in 2017, pled guilty to and was convicted of eight counts of first degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault when she worked in Long Term Care facilities in southwestern Ontario.

While this case may stand out as alarmingly rare in Ontario and in other parts of the world, there have been a significant number of other reported stories over the last several years of terrible conditions and negligent practices in this strained system of Long Term Care.

In Ontario, there is a Ministry of Long Term Care, a subset of the Ontario Ministry of Health with one of its mandates to “reduce long-term care waitlists across the province and end hallway healthcare.” While that statement on the surface highlights two major problems, it has become a political platitude, and it doesn’t drill down into the operational issues in Long Term Care (LTC) facilities. Nor does it tell the realities of those who live or work in these settings, which do not always reflect as bright and cheery as the photos on the ministry and LTC websites.

Attracting, developing and retaining talent in caring professions

So it is rather timely that an upcoming conference in Toronto is worthy of note, not just for professionals in the field but indeed consumers of LTC services. From Sept. 17 – 19, 2019, the Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) in partnership with the Global Ageing Network are hosting this event under the title This is Long Term Care 2019. If I was going to be in town and had room in my budget, I would attend.

At a time when the LTC system is under this strain and public scrutiny, and at a time when we expect the future impact of aging demographics will increase the demand, not only for actual Long Term Care facilities but for a fuller range of appropriate home care and resident care options, we also have an obvious element to consider.

How do we attract, develop and retain the right talent to work in LTC? Maybe, more broadly we should see LTC as one choice in the “caring professions.” Yet, we should note that not all career options in this field are front line providers of care such as nurses and personal support workers – it includes administrators and marketers to list but two. And, lest we forget, LTC is an industry. All you have to do is look at who is on the list of conference sponsors.  

What drove home this point for me, around career and work options, is the specific one-day segment at this conference – a Workforce Summit. The macro issue of “building a pipeline of talent, adapting to a new generation of workers” is one of the agenda bullets and so too is “healthy, safe and engaging workplace cultures.”

LTC residents as individuals in a collective community

Wonderful, except we can’t ever forget, a LTC facility is not to be defined alone as a workplace. Not that this is lost on the people who work in this field – those workplace cultures need to be built on the fact that it is a living place, the residents as individuals and as a collective community are living there, it is their health and safety that matters most at the centre of everything.

To that end, I wonder why or why not, on this workplace summit agenda, there isn’t a panel of LTC residents and family caregivers, (even if they were on video conference), brought in to share their observations of how they fit in to a “life and work culture”, and what they would suggest to improve the life for everyone?

No question, that those who choose caring professions, and in this case LTC, it is honourable and valuable work which requires great empathy that wraps around all the other skills required in the delivery of human services. The LTC world needs professional development as well as effective recruitment and compensation strategies, better public education and marketing efforts.

There is a vast range of conference Speakers at This is Long Term Care, a few of whom I have heard before at other events and I would suggest that anyone who is considering a career in LTC, they should invest in this conference, as a way to network, research and learn. It is also an opportunity for you, as a potential consumer of LTC to get a better sense of what makes up this industry. You are invited.

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