‘The risk to the health of workers across the system, and specifically in long-term care, can be fixed if the Ford Government makes the systemic changes that workers have demanded for years’
Among all Ontario workers who have acquired the COVID-19 coronavirus from January 15 to June 22, 2020, 17 per cent were healthcare workers, according to data from Public Health Ontario.
Overall, 33,853 workers have been infected during the period covered in the report, and 5,815 of them are healthcare workers. Among them, there were 13 deaths reported.
The virus is most common among healthcare workers aged 40 to 59 (2,885 cases) and 20 to 39 (2,225 cases). There were also 635 cases among 60 to 79-year-olds, 61 cases among workers less than 20 years in age and eight cases among those aged 80 and up.
Female healthcare workers (81.0 per cent) have also been infected at a higher rate compared to their male counterparts (18.7 per cent).
The majority of those infected have unspecified healthcare work occupations (3,999 or 68.8 per cent) while 1,278 (22 per cent) were nurses, 302 (5.2 per cent) were personal support workers, 123 (2.1 per cent) were physicians and 97 (1.7 per cent) were first responders.
While 2,590 cases or 44.5 per cent of the cases were ‘non-outbreak associated cases’ according to Public Health Ontario, 2,227 or 38.3 per cent of the cases were among workers in long-term care.
This is more than five times that of the number of cases reported in hospitals (433 cases or 7.4 per cent), retirement homes (366 cases or 6.3 per cent), group homes (136 cases or 23 per cent) hospices (20 cases or 0.3 per cent), shelters (15 cases or 0.3 per cent) and health care clinics (seven cases or 0.1 per cent).
Workers’ union Unifor noted that healthcare workers were “severely overrepresented” in the data, and this could be fixed by the Ontario government.
“Ontario's healthcare system is a dangerous place to work, far beyond what is reasonable,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor national president. “The risk to the health of workers across the system, and specifically in long-term care, can be fixed if the Ford Government makes the systemic changes that workers have demanded for years.”
However, there is still no specific plan to address the issue, according to the union.
“Receiving this data months into the pandemic while there is still no comprehensive plan from the government to repair our broken health care sector is an insult to front-line workers whom the Premier has repeatedly called heroes,” said Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario regional director. “We have known for years that Ontario has a long-term care staffing crisis, and that cuts have left health care services over-crowded and at risk. This data shows the devastating effects of those choices.”
Unifor also hit at the government’s Bill 195 or Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, and its recent announcement that it is committing $1.75 billion in funding over five years to add new beds in long-term care homes while also updating design standards for all existing facilities and the ones that will be built in the future to include air conditioning.
“Premier Ford must improve safety, wages and all working conditions in long-term care now, to bring workers back to the sector. Instead, his government is making an already difficult job harder with Bill 195 set to wreak havoc on front-line workers' schedules, vacation and even their ability to earn their pre-pandemic wages as it pertains to having more than one workplace,” said Dias.
“Nothing that is happening right now leads me to believe that we are at all prepared for a second wave of this pandemic. Now is the time to rebuild Ontario's public health care system. Unifor, and Ontario's health care workers, are fully prepared to participate in implementing the real solutions that patients and workers need.”
In May, the Ontario government received a report from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) which details medical, professional and technical issues present in five long-term care facilities in the province, which the military inspected over two weeks. Ford described the contents of the report as “heartbreaking” and “horrific”.