Limited access hobbles aide training program
Any effort to encourage more people to enter Manitoba’s critically understaffed health-care system should be reason to celebrate — that is, unless the effort creates more barriers than benefits.
Last Tuesday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon took part in the announcement of $3.4-million in funding for a tuition support program to allow uncertified health-care aides to upgrade their skills and work as full-fledged staff members in local hospitals and care homes.
At face value, this initiative seems a positive way to boost staffing and offer better employment opportunities to those already working in the field. Critics, however, were quick to point out the pitfalls.
As it’s currently designed, the bridge program is only open to aides who have logged a minimum of 1,200 work hours in the past two years. According to Manitoba’s health-care union, only 70 of the 585 uncertified health-care aides currently working in the province meet that criteria.
That covers barely half of the 120 spaces open for the first intake of the training program, which takes place over 24 weeks and is offered on a flexible part-time basis through local colleges.
The pool of uncertified aides is the result of a mad scramble to fill positions in long-term care homes during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 850 people hired in these roles received one week of training, and many worked in a support capacity under the direction of certified health-care aides.
In many ways, these positions are the backbone of the health-care system. Health-care aides work in hospitals, long-term care homes and home care settings with a focus on patient and client well-being. While doctors diagnose and nurses administer treatments, aides take care of the essential daily needs of people within medical institutions. They also perform workplace tasks that keep departments running smoothly.
Within elder care, they play an important role in helping seniors remain independent and provide important physical, emotional and social support. The provincial bridge training program is an attempt to recruit more workers while also aligning with the staffing recommendations in the Stevenson Report, which investigated the COVID-19 outbreak at Maples Personal Care Home in which 56 people died. Public and private elder-care facilities are in desperate need of larger rosters of qualified staff, as evidenced by the report.
There is a widening staffing gap within the health-care field that requires immediate action and unprecedented resources. People are leaving en masse, citing burnout and lack of support during an ongoing health crisis. Those who continue to stick it out are being tasked with a larger workload.
The situation seems poised to worsen if the government can’t find effective ways to fill positions and improve working conditions. A program that’s accessible to less than 12 per cent of the uncertified health-care aides in Manitoba is an ineffective way to proceed.
In June, the province announced the addition of approximately 350 health-care aide positions across multiple sectors. There are more than enough uncertified aides locally to fill these jobs and then some. These people already have hands-on experience in health care and, it would seem, an interest in working in the field. Why the government isn’t doing more to get these individuals trained and into the workforce is a question that needs answering — and quickly.
If provincial leaders were interested in fixing Manitoba’s crumbling public-health system, they would be opening doors, not adding more locks.