Rainycrest addressing staffing shortages through Temporary Foreign Worker program

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Rainycrest Long-Term Care Home is making the most of a government program to help fill gaps in its workforce and better the lives of its residents and newcomers to Canada.

Since 2018, the home has been looking at ways to cover gaps in the staffing levels of its healthcare workers, the individuals at the heart of making sure the many residents get the care they need. As the impacts of a labour shortage were felt more keenly across much of the country, and are continuing to impact the number of workers available for care homes to access, Rainycrest administrator Tara Morelli said that Riverside Health Care needed to start thinking outside the box to address the shortages.

“Riverside began expanding their recruitment initiative for personal support workers (PSW) or health care aids back in 2018,” Morelli explained.

“We were noticing a really significant increase in vacant PSW jobs, as well as a decline in the clinical placements were were getting from the local colleges for the PSWs in long-term car.e Obviously that was really concerning, so we were trying to put our heads together to determine what we should do to ensure we had a stable workforce to be able to continue to offer these important services within our community.”

Predating some of the more recent provincial government initiatives to increase the number of PSW’s in the workforce, Morelli said that Riverside began working to increase the enrolment numbers and accessibility into Confederation College’s PSW program by starting a PSW living classroom at the long-term care home, helping to cover tuition, books and placements, as well as providing conditional offers of full-time employment to graduates. The time and effort Riverside put into that particular initiative saw 10 new staff join the ranks, and Morelli said that emboldened them to continue seeking innovative ways to get more qualified staff. When they returned to the idea of working with the local colleges, they found there weren’t enough people enrolled to make the program work.

“So then, again, we were back to the drawing board,” she explained.

“In 2020 is when we really started looking at innovative solutions for recruitment by exploring the Temporary Foreign Worker program.”

Morelli said the ideal circumstance for the organization is that there are enough interested and qualified workers within Canada to cover the openings within any given field like healthcare. However, when experiencing a shortage, the Temporary Foreign Workers program can help to bring in qualified, or even over-qualified, individuals from other parts of the world who can be quickly retrained and put into positions to help cover openings or significant staff shortages. Through the Temporary Foreign Workers program, Morelli said they were able to bring in an initial cohort of two internationally trained workers from the Philippines, each a Registered Nurse in their country of origin, who were able to take and qualify through a Canadian curriculum PSW to begin working at the home.

“Once we recruited these individuals, they were able to get their temporary work permits, and those were granted for one year, initially,” she said.

“So then they worked with us for a year. At that point we had to renew their work permit through the necessary processes through immigration. They became very successful, contributing members of our community, they continued on with their growth and became registered nurses with the College of Nurses of Ontario. Now they are actually full-time nurses at our hospital.”

Morelli noted that the program has allowed the initial cohort of foreign workers, as well as many who have come after, that potential to not only begin with a qualified job in Canada, but continue to increase their experience and knowledge to regain the title many of them had in their home country. Not only can they improve their professional careers, but they are also excited to seize many of the other opportunities available to them here in Canada.

“Since then, we actually have been successful in recruiting, hiring and immigrating 15 more health care workers from the Philippines,” Morelli said.

“They’re excited to be here in Canada, they want to gain permanent residency, so they work full-time with our organization. We support them in any way that we can. It’s a very different climate change, not just cultural, from what they’re used to. It’s been a big change, but thus far it;’s been a very successful recruitment strategy and most of the people that do come over do want to stay and live within our community.”

It’s important to stress that these are highly-qualified, even over-qualified professionals coming in to fill jobs that are oftentimes beneath their station, rather than some idea of warm bodies coming over to fill a role simply because they are willing to work. Morelli said for many of them it’s a huge commitment, often involving leaving families, friends and entire lives behind them as they travel across the globe to wind up in Fort Frances.

“It’s a significant amount of effort, but definitely worth it,” Morelli said.

“Even just the morals and values of the individuals who have come over really align with our missions and our values for Riverside, and providing that standard level of care that we strive for. It’s been a very good match. It’s been successful. We’re pulling very qualified, and over-qualified in some situations, people, and they’re transitioning into our workforce, and then retraining and re-certifying so that they’re able to grow within our community.”

Morelli stated that the residents at Rainycrest have been very positive about the workers brought in through the government program, and the success of those workers so far means that a reliance on the Temporary Foreign Workers program will likely continue as long as the domestic supply of trained PSW’s continues to be low. With the influx of qualified and training individuals coming to the community and working in places like Rainycrest, Morelli said the home is planning to increase the amount of daily care each resident receives to three hours and 42 minutes per day come March 2023, and the Temporary Foreign Workers program is one of the key ways they plan to achieve that goal, with what she described as “a large number of applications” currently in to the government to bring in more workers though the program.

“The biggest focus we have is that we want to maintain our services within our community for our community members,” Morelli said.

“It’s a great program. But that’s supplemental to the great staff and workforce that we have within our facilities already. It’s not to downplay the importance of our staff members that are either new or have many years of experience within our facilities. I think it’s supplemental that we can bring these two paths of workforce together and really sustain the services in our community.”