LONDON, ONT. -- The provincial government is calling it one of the largest personal support worker (PSW) recruiting and training drives in the province's history, while the chair of the London Health Coalition argues the plan falls short.

Ontario is providing $115 million to train up to 8,200 new PSWs in health and long-term care sectors across the province.

Fanshawe College is one of 24 Ontario schools accepting applications for its free accelerated program to train future PSWs.

In a release, Fanshawe President Peter Devlin thanks the provincial government for funding the program and "providing career opportunities" for students.

“Our graduates will be prepared to make a difference in our region by providing high quality care in the health and long-term sectors.”

Fanshawe’s Associate Dean of Simcoe and St. Thomas’ campuses, Donna Gates, says that Fanshawe has committed to 230 spots for students.

“There will be three intakes in London, and then an intake in our other areas, so St. Thomas, Simcoe and Huron-Bruce…phones have been ringing off the hook since the announcement.”

It’s not a step backwards, but it's not a fundamental improvement either.

That's the message from the chair of the London Health Coalition, Peter Bergmanis, in response to the plan.

"The government making some claim that they have actually made inroads here, I find that hard to believe.”

Bergmanis argues that the province's promise of 8,200 workers is not nearly enough to support the constant need for staff in health and long-term care sectors.

“To think that just a few more health care workers are going to make a difference, we need thousands and they need proper working conditions.”

Bergmanis says the government needs to fix the underlying problems that PSWs face.

“(PSWs) need full-time work, not part-time work, not hobbling together jobs from one place to another, and the pandemic has also shut down their ability to work in different facilities.”

CTV News reached out to Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek for comment.

In response, Minister of Long-term Care Merrilee Fullerton’s press secretary, Krystle Caputo provided a response in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the systemic issues facing long-term care after decades of neglect and underfunding by successive governments...We have provided PSW wage supports programming that has enabled homes to hire over 8,600 front-line workers."

It continued, “Improving working conditions is crucial to addressing issues of staffing recruitment, training and retention and improving the conditions of care for residents.”

Private PSW Michelle Clermont says she is happy with the government's decision to provide free education to future PSWs.

“Offering free education for potential PSWs is a great way to find people who may have an interest in caregiving, and giving them an opportunity to feel out the profession and seeing if they are a good fit for it.”

But Clermont argues that the pandemic exposed the fundamental flaws that exist in long-term care staffing.

She says staff are not compensated appropriately and that they are offered scarce hours, sometimes preventing them from accessing work benefits.

“It is a very difficult career to keep so a lot of people will burn out, or just not make enough money. It’s very hard to justify cleaning someone's body and dealing with accidents that happen, when you could go and hand out coffees and make the same money and maybe get more hours.”

Clermont says that facilities prevented PSWs from working at any other facility during the pandemic. This caused many PSWs to lose a majority of their income.

“It is a government issue, the government has to make it a priority and decide that these health care workers that they say are heroes, are actually treated with respect and the dignity to survive in today’s market.”

Caputo wrote in her statement that work is underway to make long-term care a better place for residents to live and a better place for staff to work.

“The work to modernize long-term care with immediate staffing investments. Culminating in $1.9 billion annually to meet our nation-leading four hours, on average, of daily direct resident care, and $1.75 billion invested to create modern and safe long-term care spaces.”

Bergmanis echoes the need for government action to address job security and work wages for PSWs, to keep future health-care workers from leaving the field once they enter it.

“This government has done nothing to address that they need paid sick time and full-time hours to make a living, if we really treat them as heroes we should show that.”