KITCHENER -- A nearly $5 million influx of funding to Conestoga College is meant to help graduate up to 500 long-term care support staff.

On Monday, the Minister of Long-Term Care, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, announced the funding for the college to support a seven-week program which will begin next month.

“Our government is committed to modernizing long-term care and this includes having the well-trained staff that we need to support our most vulnerable,” said Fullerton.

The minister describes the program as a “micro-credential” course which includes five weeks of technical training and two weeks of on-the-job experience. Those people completing the course will be able to assist with infection prevention and control, health and safety and housekeeping.

While the head of Conestoga’s health and life sciences department, Veronique Boscart, welcomes the program, she says the government has yet to address the nursing shortfall in Ontario’s long-term care homes.

“If that [nursing care] is not in place, you will see deficits in care,” said Boscart. “Even the best Personal Support Worker or Supportive Care Provider cannot solve the problem.”

In a submission to the Long-Term Care Staffing Study Advisory Group in June 2020, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario estimated staffing shortfalls of 63 per cent for Registered Nurses, 51 per cent for Registered Practical Nurses and 13 per cent for Personal Support Workers in Ontario long-term care settings in meeting a standard of care of four hours of direct nursing and personal care per resident per day.

“It’s the nurses that do the advanced assessments, that look at quality impact, that look at end-of-life care, quality of life, wound care, all these things that really, really make a difference,” said Boscart.

Minister Fullerton says the government is committed to fix the staffing shortages by investing in education.

“Ontario’s public colleges, private career colleges and school boards will graduate up to 16,500 new PSWs in the next year,” said Fullerton in a statement.

Boscart says that figure will likely need to be “doubled” to makeup the staffing shortfalls.

The Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission released its report on Friday following an investigation into the pandemic impacts on long-term care homes. The report identified poor staffing and preparedness for the pandemic – resulting in Ontario’s long-term care homes suffering some of the worst infection and death rates in the world.

The report highlights 61 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Ontario were long-term care residents in 2020. By the end of April 2021, there have been 11 staff and almost 4,000 residents who have died of COVID-19.

The total funding for the SkillsAdvance Ontario program at Conestoga College is $4.825 million over two years.