A province-wide shortage of personal support workers is keeping some patients hospital-bound.

The cost to our health system is astronomical, but the cost to the mental state of those patients, immeasurable. One Ottawa woman is so desperate to leave the hospital; she fears she's spiraling downwards.  She's been at Saint Vincent Hospital for a year and a half, ready to be discharged but no one to care for her.

 Three hours a day.  That's all Christine Benoit says she needs to help her return home to her apartment in Kanata. Instead, she remains at Saint Vincent Hospital where she's been for more than a year, physically at any rate.  But her mind is elsewhere.

“I'm long gone,” she says, “I want to run away but I know that's not a possibility because I need the support.”

The 44-year-old has multiple sclerosis and needs the help of a personal support worker (PSW) to get her in and out of bed.  But a province-wide shortage of PSW's means that while she's ready to be discharged, she can't leave.

“The doctor has wanted to kick me out since August of this year,” she joke, “Every time he comes in, he says “What are you still doing here?”

Amy Porteous is with Bruyere Continuing Care, the umbrella organization for Saint Vincent Hospital, “Being in a hospital when they could be at home,” she says, “It’s more preferable that they are getting cared for in their own home.”

There are about 8 other patients like Christine in the same position, according to Chantele LeClerc who is the CEO of the Champlain LHIN, the local health integration network.  These patients are well enough to be discharged but cannot due to a lack of support at home and the cost to both them and the health system is staggering. 

According to statistics from the Champlain LHIN, a continuing care bed at Saint Vincent costs about $560 a day.  An acute care bed is about a thousand a day.  Compare that to a home-care client at less $30 a day.

The problem, though, is attracting people to this profession.

“We don’t have a problem getting nursing organized in a timely way,” says LeClerc, “Really, it’s the support workers.  The challenge has been securing, recruiting and maintaining the amount of personal support workers that’s needed. Over last several years, we have continued to grow home care services we are delivering, but the human resources haven't kept pace with that.”

She adds that it is not a question of funding, “At the moment in our region, it's not a financial issue.  We have the funds available to supply more home care services.It’s an issue of the providers who provide the home care on our behalf hiring these individuals and securing their services.”

Salaries are just above the minimum wage level and often the work involves split shifts and extensive travel time.  But there are solutions in the works.  The Champlain LHIN has teamed up with the providers who hire personal support workers to see if there's a better way to utilize these PSW’s. But that's a long term solution.

In the short term, Christine Benoit remains at Saint Vincent, waiting and worrying.

“I don't want to go crazy,” she says, her voice breaking, “My mind right now is probably the only thing that works.”