Good afternoon and thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a privilege to speak today to the committee.
I'm a master's-prepared registered nurse by profession and currently the CEO of a faith-based, not-for-profit care provider to 460 seniors in Winnipeg.
I understand that I was invited to speak on the impact of COVID on women in Canada. As a female CEO leading a predominantly female workforce in one of the highest-risk health care environments during COVID, it's my privilege to share with you my experiences during this pandemic and the disproportionate impact it has had on women working in long-term care specifically.
Long-term care is indeed dominated by women, as was already mentioned. In my home, 96% of my staff are female, and across Canada over 90% of the sector is represented by women.
Before I can tell you how women in this sector have been impacted by COVID, I'd like to paint a picture of the challenges women faced prior to the pandemic.
My staff work days, evenings, nights and every other weekend. More often than not, they are carrying the primary responsibilities of their households. Given the nature of the sector, they typically juggle more than one part-time position, equalling more than one full-time job. They are often members of minority groups, sometimes recent immigrants, and most have very limited opportunities to save for a rainy day. The majority of these absolutely courageous women are also care providers in unregulated roles, with minimal education to effectively prepare them for the complexities of caregiving in long-term care.
Added to these stressors, women working in long-term care have chosen a tough road with inadequate respect for the work they do and for the seniors in their care. Let me take a moment to share what “tough” looks like.
Tough is giving someone a bath in an 18-year-old tub, eight years older than its expected usefulness. Tough is providing care on hot summer days when the 40-year-old air conditioning doesn't work reliably, but there's no funding to replace it. Tough is moving an elderly resident into a shared room to spend their final days with a complete stranger. Tough is trying to be innovative in care while still trying to secure funding for basic Wi-Fi.
My staff and leadership team continue to personally offset the costs that are not recognized by the existing system of care. Our supporting community and staff have been propping up the system with sheer force of will to prevent it from failing. I will give some concrete examples. Staff regularly donate their own money to support fundraisers for equipment and programs. Staff work extra time, essentially volunteering, because the care needs are great. Leaders are on call 24-7 without compensation in order to be accessible and supportive to direct care staff, and our supporting community members provide 100% of the salary for full-time spiritual care, an integral part of holistic health care to seniors that receives no funding.
COVID has pushed this remarkable, women-led workforce in long-term care to a breaking point. It is harming their families, their finances and their health. My staff, who are moms, now stand in long lines to pick up groceries. They prepare meals, coordinate family schedules and now are home-schooling their school-aged kids. Financially, some of these women have lost income and are unable to find suitable child care for people working shift work. From a health and safety perspective, these women are also at a higher risk of COVID exposure merely from working in long-term care, where we know the majority of deaths in Canada have occurred. Also, very tragically, some women are experiencing an escalation in domestic violence.
COVID has had a multiplier effect on the underlying challenges in my sector, which we know disproportionately impacts women. If the Government of Canada wants to demonstrate its dedication to improving the lives of Canadian women and Canadian senior women, many of whom end up in care, it needs to start by addressing the foundational challenges in long-term care and the devastation that this pandemic has illuminated. Long-term care can no longer rely on the heroics of the informal support and funding provided by the primarily female caregivers, leaders and volunteers.
In closing, let me say that caregiving is honourable work, but we no longer have the option of cobbling together a system of seniors care that undervalues the contributions of women and fails to respond to the actual needs required for operating and capital investments.