WINGHAM, ONT. -- More than 50 people who used to work in Bruce County’s libraries and museums have been asked if they could work with seniors instead.

So far, seven of the 54 have taken up the county on its offer to work in two long-term care homes.

To date, the former librarians and archivists have just been screening people as they enter the nursing homes, but they’ll soon be trained to take residents to meals, clean bed pans, organize rooms, and eventually, even answer some call bells.

“Not every call bell that goes requires a registered nurse or qualified PSW. A resident may just want some water,” says Jill Knowlton, who manages Bruce County’s long-term care homes.

The new role, a resident support attendant, has been created in light of a potential loss of as many as 50 per cent of front-line healthcare workers in Ontario due to self-isolation or sickness from COVID-19.

“I’m hearing of homes with COVID-19 with 40 to 50 per cent absenteeism. You want to be prepared. You don’t want to be doing this type of training in the middle of a crisis,” says Knowlton.

An emergency provincial order has allowed for people that wouldn’t normally work in long-term care, to be allowed to work in the homes.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) is also trying to round up people to work in long-term care, if and when the need arises. They launched a link to their program two days ago, trying to connect post-secondary school students with available jobs in the field. They already have 40 jobs at 90 Ontario homes listed.

“Certainly our first priority of focus is students that are enrolled in a health or social sciences program. There are several PSW, therapy, and social work programs out there. We think those students will be uniquely qualified to go into these roles,” says Wiesia Kubicka, vice-president of police and operations for OLTCA.

As admirable as it is that people want to help, not everyone is buying the “outside” help.

“Bringing in people that are not qualified to deal with seniors issues, or infection control issues, or medical issues, while in theory sounds great, it will put seniors and residents at greater risk,” says Candace Rennick, with CUPE Ontario, which represent thousands of long-term care workers in the province.