Health Human Resources Insight: Retaining Our Long-Term Care Workforce

As we’ve written about in over the last few weeks — and it should come as no surprise — the ongoing health human resources crisis has taken a toll on the long-term care sector’s workforce. Years of underfunding and stretched resources, combined with the unique challenges of the pandemic have created a perfect storm for staff burnout.

A report out late last year from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in collaboration with the Centre for Studies in Primary Care at Queen’s University and HEC Montréal’s Healthcare Management Hub, found that 40 per cent of health care workers report burnout. The report also found half of respondents want to leave their profession.

If we’re going to seriously address the HHR crisis, the most obvious answer is addressing the concerns of the current workers. As a sector, we must strive to create a welcoming, supportive culture that prioritizes the mental health needs of our workforce.

CALTC worked with the Mental Health Commission to customize their program called The Working Mind Program specifically for long-term care to support the mental health needs of staff through education and evidence-based training modules. Stigma remains one of the biggest barriers to preventing people from reaching out for help; that’s why one of the first parts of the program is about understanding the mental health continuum, how to move past the stigma and have open, honest conversations about mental health.

When workers can be candid about their feelings, we can begin to teach and lay the groundwork for strategies that help build resilience around stress, negativity and difficult situations. We are happy the federal government saw the value of this work and awarded CALTC a grant to facilitate this important initiative.

Of course, one program is not going to solve the burnout problem in the long-term care sector. Governments of all stripes and level must continue to support programs like The Working Mind Program. In addition to education, we must also bolster funding for workers in long-term care to be able to receive the counseling, clinical and other appropriate support they need to address their physical and mental health concerns.

Mental health support is one part of building fulfilling workplaces across the long-term care sector. We also know that when professional development is prioritized, workers feel more satisfied as they continue to grow their skillsets and talent.

Increasing opportunities for continual learning that allow staff to not only grow but leverage these experiences to move up in their field and get promoted is also crucial. Rewarding people who are committed to long-term care and the profession is important.

As universities and colleges build up spaces for nursing and personal support work programs, there is an opportunity to also create these continuing education programs as well.

When we talk about the HHR crisis, we too often think about filling the vacancies and bringing more talent into health care fields. While this is no doubt important, a big part of the solution is training the excellent workforce already in the system. This is essential if we will continue to build up the long-term care sector across Canada. 

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