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 Gilleen Witkowski
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Like many other Canadians, we were terribly saddened by news of the fire that killed dozens of elderly residents of L’Isle-Verte , Quebec the early morning of January 23. What those individuals experienced at the very end of their long lives is painful even to imagine.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who tragically lost their lives in the fire at the seniors’ home in L’Isle-Verte,” said SEIU Healthcare president Sharleen Stewart. “Canadian seniors deserve to be safe in their homes. As a society we have a duty to keep them secure. It is hard to find the words to comment on this terrible incident.”

Unfortunately, low staffing levels make tragedies like this more likely to happen. Emergencies often occur during understaffed evening, night, or weekend shifts. In some workplaces, there could be one staff member for 30 residents or more during these shifts, making evacuations difficult or impossible.

“We can never entirely eliminate safety risks, but we can reduce them significantly with enough staff to take care of residents,” said Stewart.

SEIU Healthcare is asking for more hours of care a day per resident in Ontario long-term care. We have pushed for this at every level of government, and we belong to the Staffing Alliance for Every Resident (SAFER) coalition of unions, educators, and elder advocates, but there is still not enough money being invested in long-term care to make sure these residences have sufficient staffing levels.

Given Ontario’s sad record of nursing home fires, we support the government considering making sprinkler requirements retroactive.

But it is not good enough to wait until tragedies happen. We need to take care of our seniors now and a large part of the solution is to increase staffing levels to mitigate safety risks.