Ontario’s bid to boost accountability in the unregulated personal support workforce has become the province’s latest multi-million-dollar “boondoggle,” according to NDP health critic France Gelinas.
The health ministry quietly began shutting down an electronic registry of more than 35,000 personal support workers on Monday, after complaints that the database contained unverified information about individuals’ training, educational and criminal backgrounds.
Miranda Ferrier, president of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, said the database created a “huge false sense of security” for employers and patients looking to hire a competent, qualified caregiver.
“You could have gone and added your name to the registry and nobody would have ever checked,” Gelinas said.
“Really bad things could have happened,” said Ferrier, who told the Toronto Star she is “thrilled” to see it go.
The ministry hired an agency to review the registry last year and said it has been working to “improve the strength of the data collected.”
When the registry was created in 2011, former health minister Deb Matthews promised it would “promote greater accountability and transparency.” What she didn’t say was the agency the government hired to create and maintain the registry was not mandated to perform criminal background checks on personal support workers who wanted to be in the database.
The organization at the heart of this controversy — the Ontario Community Support Association — has been paid more than $5 million by the health ministry since 2011 to create and maintain the registry.
The association’s CEO, Deborah Simon, told the Star it “is absolutely not true that anybody could register.” Simon said the agency checked educational backgrounds by requiring a certificate when applying to the registry. She said staff would then check to make sure the school listed on the registrant’s application existed. The result, she said, is a “major achievement” in that the registry has provided “very valuable demographic information that’s never been aggregated before.”
Simon said the ministry played no role in strengthening registry data during the last year.
“I don’t know what other strengthening of data the ministry would be involved in because they’re not involved in day-to-day decision making around registration,” she said. “I’m not clear on what they’re specifically talking about . . . We’re always refining our registration process.”
One such process, Simon said, has been figuring out how to remove names from the registry.
Why would a name need to be removed?
“For a number of reasons,” Simon said. “For data we’re aware is not correct. For concerns that have been raised around issues that a personal support worker might be involved in.”
Neither Simon nor the ministry has said how many names had to be removed from the list since it became operational in 2012.
By March 18, 2016, there will be no trace of the registry online.
That day won’t come soon enough for Gelinas.
“It has done nothing but make the OSCA richer,” she said. The registry “has all of the DNA of e-health,” Gelinas said, referring to the scandal that saw provincial government spend more than $1 billion trying to create electronic health records with little to show for it.
Despite the controversy, the health ministry does not see the registry as a waste of money and time.
“We are proud of the investments we’ve made to create a more stable and professional PSW workforce,” Health Minister Eric Hoskins said in a statement on Wednesday. “As part of our efforts to attract and retain the best PSWs in the home and community care sector, we will continue to implement our PSW Workforce Stabilization Strategy, which includes enhancing wages for PSWs, creating a $10-million PSW training fund and implementing a consistent educational standard for PSWs across the province.”