LONDON, ONT. -- In a time of crisis they’re among the unsung heroes - personal support workers (PSWs) in long-term care homes who care for our most vulnerable.

“The major concern with most of our staff here, it’s the ‘what ifs,’” says PSW Geoff Hebb, who works at a busy Elgin County Long Term Care Home.

In a single day he’ll care for 27 patients, and he says each day comes with a new worry over the possibility of an outbreak at the facility.

“We have some very vulnerable residents. Fortunately at this facility we have the ability to isolate, but that doesn‘t take away the fact that staff are moving around and may come in contact with people on the outside that may have it.”

His concerns are becoming more real, as retirement and long-term care homes become a key battleground in the fight against COVID-19. Several facilities throughout southwestern Ontario are now reporting multiple cases.

The growing list includes Landmark Village, a retirement home in Sarnia.

Lambton Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sundit Ranade told a media teleconference on Wednesday that 11 people at the home have tested positive, including four elderly residents who died of the virus.

“As this goes on and on it becomes harder to trace back people’s connection. And at a certain point we may just have to leave some of them and not be able to connect them to other people and satisfy ourselves that this is in fact community transmission. We’re not quite there yet.”

The long-term care critic for the Ontario NDP points out that many PSWs have left the field over the past few years because of working conditions and wages. London-Fanshwe MPP Teresa Armstrong adds that now that we’re in a crisis situation we are feeling their absence.

“We need to bring those experienced PSWs back because the more experienced workers we have, we know that they’ll be able to spend more time focused on care, and also taking precautions around the virus containment.”

“We are definitely facing a PSW crisis here in Ontario,” adds Hebb, who says many long-term care homes have gone several years without a full complement of PSWs.

The NDP is calling for higher wages and a retention fund for PSWs.