You wake up in the morning and finally roll out of bed after pressing the snooze button a few too many times. Your next stop is probably the washroom where you might take a quick shower and brush your teeth. You might need to fix your hair and maybe apply some makeup too. Then it’s time to get dressed.
How long did that take you: Half an hour? An hour?
What about six minutes?
That’s the challenge set by the private sector union Unifor in order to highlight the plight of personal support workers (PSWs) in Ontario’s long-term care homes who have approximately six minutes, on average, to ready each resident in their facility for the day ahead.
That means PSWs have to rouse residents from bed, help them to the washroom or change their incontinence protection, assist them with getting dressed and taking any medication they may have in approximately six minutes before they have to move on to help the next senior.
“If you’re 93 years old and you have dentures and you have a hearing aid and you need incontinence products and you don’t like to be rushed in the morning, it makes it really tough,” Ontario NDP Health Critic France Gelinas told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday.
Six Minute Challenge
Unifor, which represents 9,000 workers in long-term care in Ontario, is asking the public to document their attempts to finish their morning routine in less than six minutes and post their results on social media with the hashtag #6minchallenge. Since its launch in December, the campaign has seen users posting photos and videos taken mid-shower or mid-shave when the time is up.
In one example, a woman attempting the challenge only had time to visit the washroom, put on deodorant, brush her teeth and put on a shirt, but not her pants, before the timer went off.
In another post, a man shared a photo of himself and his family still brushing their teeth when they ran out of time.
Despite the lighthearted posts on social media, the campaign is attracting attention to the problem of understaffing at nursing homes in Ontario. That means PSWs are taking on multiple roles outside their area of expertise, such as serving meals, Gelinas said.
One PSW who works at a long-term care home in North Bay, and only wants to be identified by her initials N.J., told CTVNews.ca that, when she worked the morning shift she would be responsible for getting nine or ten residents ready for breakfast and into the dining hall by 8 a.m.
“I was never in that dining room on time. If I was lucky, I’d be pushing it to be down there for 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m.,” she said on Tuesday. “I always felt rushed and I’m pretty sure the other girls do too.”
The PSW said she was also charged with other daily tasks on top of caring for the seniors, such as taking meal orders, serving food, clearing tables and doing laundry.
Morgan Kevill, a PSW at the Sault Area Hospital in Sault Saint Marie, Ont., who spent time working in nursing homes as part of her training, said she witnessed the rush to get seniors ready in the mornings firsthand.
“When you have six minutes to get a single person ready, there’s no way you can get that person ready in a dignified way. There’s no way that person is feeling like themselves, feeling good about themselves,” Kevill said. “It just feels so wrong.”
To raise awareness, Kevill attempted the Six Minute Challenge herself and posted a video of the experience on Facebook. She didn’t get very far, however. By the time the six minutes was up, Kevill wasn’t dressed, hadn’t brushed her hair, put on her makeup or eaten breakfast yet.
Bill 33, Time to Care Act
In an effort to find a solution, Gelinas has introduced Bill 33, the Time to Care Act, as an amendment to the province’s current Long-Term Care Homes Act. The proposed legislation would mandate a minimum standard of daily care that would see each resident in a long-term care facility receive at least four hours of direct, hands-on care from a PSW.
There is currently no mandated standard for daily care in the province for the 78,000 residents living in long-term care homes, Gelinas said.
The Nickel Belt MPP said she’s pleased the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have expressed support for the bill. It passed in the legislature during its second reading in November.
“The time has come. Those people deserve four hours of hands-on care. The sooner the government steps up to the plate and makes it mandatory, the safer our loved ones will be,” Gelinas said. “We can’t wait anymore.”
Bill 33 must pass a third reading before it can become law.
Despite the government support for the bill, the Ontario Long Term Care Association, which represents nearly 70 per cent of the province’s long-term care operators, expressed concern about the practical application of the minimum standard of daily care.
“While we are encouraged by the debate about how we improve front line care, we are concerned about the bill’s mandate which is to provide every resident with a set minimum number of hours of care, per day and no mention of funding to support such an effort,” CEO Candace Chartier said in a statement to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday.
Chartier also said that some residents require less time than others and that long-term care homes require flexibility to manage staffing based on resident need.
“The vast majority of long-term care homes currently do a good job in addressing resident need with the resources provided, which of course is something that could be improved upon with more dedicated funding to enhance the number of staff within our homes.”
As for the Six Minute Challenge, Gelinas said she supports the campaign because it’s starting a conversation about the problem.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. Long-term care is not sexy. It doesn’t grab people’s attention,” she said. “The Six Minute Challenge is really to bring it to the forefront.”
When asked if she’d tried the challenge herself, Gelinas said she had but she didn’t take any photos or video of it.
“You need more courage than I have to post yourself brushing your teeth and brushing your hair in the morning. I may work up the courage but there’s no way I’m ready in six minutes,” she said with a laugh.