Resilience shines on the front lines of pandemic home care

Image: Resilience shines on the front lines of pandemic home care

Spectrum's CEO Sandra Ketchen reflects on the critical role her company’s sector plays in the broader health care system in allowing Ontario’s most vulnerable to continue living at home.


As we near the two-year mark of our ongoing fight against COVID-19, I am reflecting on my second anniversary as a new CEO in the home care sector. I can’t help but be inspired by the resilience displayed on a daily basis by my team as they provide thousands of vulnerable Ontarians, mostly seniors, the support they need to continue living at home.

There is a lot of fatigue, frustration, and stress in the home care sector — just as there is among other health care providers on the front lines as the pandemic drags on, fuelled by the highly infectious Omicron variant.

It’s difficult sometimes not to feel overwhelmed or anxious when you are already carrying out extremely challenging and important work — providing the nursing and personal care needed to keep people in their homes and out of hospitals and long-term care facilities, while also contending with one of the most serious health crises of the past century.

But without doubt, of everything I’ve seen and experienced over the past two years, what stands out most is the resilient spirit and compassion of my 3,000 home care team members who continue to find new and creative ways to deliver the care their patients need, more than 75,000 times every single week. And yet, despite the critical role home care plays in our broader health system, it continues to fly largely under the radar.

I’ve been fortunate to have a unique perspective on the pandemic as a brand new CEO of one of Ontario’s largest home health care providers. After spending more than 20 years in leadership roles within the sectors of global electronics and automation manufacturing, almost seven years ago I shifted gears and transitioned into the home care sector.

The first wave of the pandemic was just gathering strength as I began my current role at Spectrum Health Care. My first day on the job in March 2020 coincided with the day Ontario declared a state of emergency and imposed a lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. Instead of holding meetings to introduce myself to members of our leadership team and staff, I was working with our leaders to send our branch staff home to begin remote work and ensure we had sufficient PPE to keep our front-line health workers safe.

In the fear and confusion that dominated the early days of the pandemic as we were just learning about COVID-19, long before the arrival of any vaccines or medicines, all of us had to overcome obstacles and adapt to new ways of working and inspiring our teams.

This was definitely not the way I wanted to start my very first CEO role — building relationships with team members virtually through screens rather than in person. However, we were all united and energized by the same rally cry — delivering high quality care while still keeping our clients and staff as safe as possible.

We talked about safety every day back then, as we still do now, and we figured out how to continue delivering care effectively as circumstances around us continued to evolve and change with new public health measures, new virus variants and other changes in the broader health sector that have impacted home care delivery.

Ensuring we have enough personal support workers, nurses, and other health workers to care for patients has been one of the greatest challenges we’ve had to confront throughout the pandemic, and which will continue to be one of our top priorities in the years ahead.

The home care sector has been dealing with a chronic shortage of health workers for many years, and it’s only gotten worse during the pandemic — in part because our current level of provincial funding doesn’t allow us to pay PSWs and nurses the same rates they can earn elsewhere in the health system.

At the same time, demand for home care is growing rapidly. A recent poll by Home Care Ontario found 96% of Ontarians over 55 said they plan to stay in their homes as long as possible. At Spectrum alone, the number of home care hours we are servicing has jumped by about 15 per cent, compared to our pre-pandemic caseload.

Our team has rallied in response to the increased demand. We’ve become more efficient and more willing to embrace new ways of doing things to ensure our growing list of patients are cared for as we ramp up recruitment and retention efforts to expand our team. And we’ve always remained focused on the meaningful impact we can have each and every time we walk into a patient’s home to provide them care.

Despite the challenges and unknowns the pandemic holds in our future, the resilience and passion our team brings to work every day fills me with confidence and optimism for what we can accomplish, not just within Spectrum but within the entire home care sector.

In the years ahead, our individual homes will become one of the primary settings where patients will be cared for as they age. I’m encouraged that there is growing recognition of the critical role home care serves in our health system and the need to help the vast majority of Ontarians retain the independence and quality of life they deserve.