After slashing immigration, Quebec turns to immigrants to fill shortage in long-term care homes

Welcome and needed change:

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who cut immigration levels during the CAQ’s first yearin power, has announced a plan to recruit immigrants to work as orderlies in the province’s long-term care homes.

“The needs are immediate,” Jolin-Barrette said at a news conference Thursday.

The pilot project to bring in 550 experienced health-care workers is part of a series of reforms to the Quebec Experience Program, or PEQ, which provides foreign students in the province and temporary workers with a fast track to permanent residency.

Since 2013, Quebec has only recruited 115 orderlies through the PEQ — a program which Jolin-Barrette tried to reduce last year as part of his immigration cuts but was forced to roll back after a flurry of criticism.The province’s long-term care institutions, known by their French initials as CHSLDs, have been short-staffed for years and face the prospect of an even more acute shortage in the fall, when experts believe a second wave of COVID-19 infections is likely to hit.The Canadian military has said it will pull soldiers from the homes before then.

Legault aims to recruit Quebecers, too

On Wednesday, Premier François Legault presented a plan to hire 10,000 more CHSLD employees by the fall.

The government is offering prospective employees $21 per hour to take a three-month training program over the summer.

If they complete the program, the trainees’ starting salary will be $26 per hour — which works out to $49,000 a year. The orderlies, known in French as préposés aux bénéficiaires (PABs), provide much of the daily care in CHSLDs.

“The problem of the préposés aux bénéficiaires is not from yesterday. It exists for years and years and years,” said Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors,Thursday.This isn’t the first time Blais has promised to address the worker shortage. In 2019, she announced a plan to hire 30,000 orderlies over the next five years.Blais now suggests people in fields like aerospace who find themselves out of work might be tempted to take on a new line of work in long-term care homes.

Blais echoed Legault, who on Wednesday asked “all Quebecers that can to consider it very seriously.”

Facing criticism over the crisis in long-term care homes, Seniors’ and Caregivers’ Minister Marguerite Blais vows to protect vulnerable people 0:43

The vast majority of orderlies in CHSLDs are women — 34,821 of 42,340 in both private and public facilities. Their average salary in 2019 was $40,551.

The Health Ministry did not immediately return a request for a breakdown of how many of those employees are recent immigrants.

Plan for asylum seekers in the works

Hundreds of orderlies are asylum seekers working on temporary visas while they await a final ruling on their refugee applications.

While the province says it has no record of the total number of asylum seekers working in CHSLDs, the Maison d’Haiti in Montreal’s Saint-Michel district estimates that about 1,200 of the 5,000 Haitian asylum seekers the organization has helped since 2017 have become orderlies.

Legault had previously rejected the idea of giving any kind of preference to asylum seekers and others without status working in essential jobs during the pandemic. But there have been growing calls for him to recognize their contribution, including a rally last weekend and a petition backed by the NDP.

Earlier this week, the premier said he will now consider giving asylum seekers who work in CHSLDs a chance to stay in the province by applying as economic immigrants — the class of immigration that Quebec controls.

Legault said he asked his immigration minister to look at the situation of those workers, on a case-by-case basis, as a way of saying “thank you.”

Jolin-Barrette said he is looking into the matter and is in discussions with the federal government, which oversees refugee applications.

As for the program to attract new immigrants to Quebec to work as orderlies, full details will be announced later, along with plans to advertise in foreign countries.

Source: After slashing immigration, Quebec turns to immigrants to fill shortage in long-term care homes

For a sobering account of just how bad the situation is, see this account:

Dear Premier François Legault,

I am inviting you to leave the safe confines of your office and join me on the front lines of what even you have described as a “national emergency.” Come spend a day with me inside a long-term care home, known in French as a CHSLD.

As a journalist who covered Quebec politics before heading to law school, I learned about the challenges facing this province’s elder care system long before the pandemic. And I know you, like all politicians, were aware, too.

I volunteered to work because you asked people to step up. For the past five weeks, myself and many others who answered your call have been working as assistant patient attendants, a paid position, at one of the Montreal CHLSDs hit hard by COVID-19.

I have been stunned, shocked and moved. I am asking you to come see first-hand what is happening. It will change the way you view this crisis and elder care forever. I know, because that is what happened to me.

You would, of course, wear the full ensemble of personal protective equipment: medical mask, plastic visor, gloves and gown, as we do every day to protect ourselves and our residents. On a regular day, these layers can suffocate. Imagine how we have felt during this week’s heat wave, without air conditioning. Yes, there may be air conditioners in common areas, but on the floor where I worked earlier this week, it wasn’t on.

If you joined us, you would see that our seniors are currently receiving the bare minimum level of care. Where I work, assistant patient attendants, like me, patient attendants, and soldiers are constantly feeding, changing diapers and washing. Nurses provide medication. Doctors are on hand during the day, often moving between floors.

But nothing else is happening beyond moving residents from their bed to their wheelchair — and sometimes, even that does not happen.

You could watch how a Canadian Forces soldier, who has traded in a uniform for scrubs, gently feeds a elderly woman who needs total help, carefully and patiently placing each spoonful of food in her mouth.

You could help wash a resident’s hair — hair that has not been washed in weeks.

You would hear how we try to console and reassure a distraught resident who has just received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. You would see the thick, bright red tape I have to unroll to mark a huge X beside her door to indicate that her room is now a hot zone, while the resident sobs in the background.

You would learn how to prepare the body of a deceased resident with a sheet of white plastic for travel to the morgue. And then you would pack that resident’s personal belongings into garbage bags, label them with a Post-It note and pile them in a maintenance closet.

You would try to explain to residents with varying degrees of dementia when this will all be over, and why their loved ones can’t visit them. After 11 weeks of this crisis, repeating “it’s going to be all right” (ça va bien aller in French) starts to lose its punch.

You would see how a team of people tries to figure out where to place red, yellow and green tape on the floor of a hallway to indicate hot, caution and safe zones to prevent further infection.

We called that floor “the jungle,” a reference to the steps and care we have to take when travelling between positive and negative areas so as to not contaminate residents who are negative. Despite our best efforts, every resident on that floor was infected by the end of the week.

You would see how some of the problems that started this crisis are creeping back. For example, last week on one of my floors, there was only one patient attendant available for 33 residents. Luckily, four of assistant patient attendants were on hand to help.

Above all, you would see people from all walks of life, soldiers, and staff giving their all to make a difference in this humanitarian crisis.

I never thought I would see, in Canada, the kind of desperation, fear and anxiety that I have seen in the eyes of our elders. And it is only by spending time on the front lines that you will be able to feel the true weight of this ongoing tragedy.

Ryan Hicks

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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