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December 17, 2003
Toronto Star, Letter to the Editor


Give staff power to speak out

Nursing home series

Moira Welsh's articles are chilling portraits of the decline in quality care in nursing homes. Our union launched a "Dignity is a Minimum Standard" campaign this year meeting with enormous public support demanding immediate action to restore minimum staffing levels to 3.5 hours per resident per day.

We understand the direct link between quality of care and staffing levels in nursing homes. Homes with lower levels experience higher incidences of quality problems: pressure ulcers, bedsores, malnutrition, dehydration, infections, accidents and falls.

Below a clear minimum standard, residents are endangered and more quality-of-care problems occur. The 3.5 hours staffing level is not "optimal," but a minimum needed to prevent poor-quality care; care that causes untimely death.

We understand that non-profit nursing homes perform better in terms of quality; while for-profit homes are better at "controlling" costs.

Investor-owned homes deliver lower quality, since profit margins require less staffing and cause more quality deficiencies rates. When residents ultimately require hospitalization, it is the public, and not the for-profit operator, that picks up the tab.

Our members provide hands-on care with little discretion under onerous conditions. They face ever-increasing workloads with fewer staff caring for more complex and ill residents.

There is disillusionment, frustration and anger at the abandonment by government and employers. Yet the vast majority continue under difficult circumstances to provide compassionate and respectful care recognizing they are often the only advocate for residents without family.

They need effective protection against reprisal or punishment by employers if they "blow the whistle."

Only effective "whistle-blower" protection can ensure that workers feel safe to report of poor care that puts residents at risk.

Nursing home workers will continue to advocate for residents, although often surreptitiously and anonymously until there are no more Natalies.

Buzz Hargrove

President CAW - Canada