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Home care sector also losing PSWs due to working conditions

Posted: February 9, 2020

(February 8, 2020)

By: Ellwood Shreve, The London Free Press

Handout/Chatham Daily News Sue VanderBent, CEO of Home Care Ontario, says there is also a shortage of personal support workers in this sector of health care due to low pay and scheduling issues.

Long-term care is not the only health-care sector suffering a severe shortage of personal support workers.

“The shortage of PSWs and other staff in home care is a huge issue,” said Sue VanderBent, the CEO of Home Care Ontario, a provincial organization that represents providers of home-care services.

VanderBent pointed to two key factors contributing to this shortage – low wages and erratic scheduling.

“Our PSWs are not feeling that they’re getting paid well enough through the system right now,” VanderBent said.

She added government funding for home care has remained stagnant for about a decade.

“The pay in home care is not even commensurate with long-term care, certainly not with hospitals,” VanderBent said.

While the low pay is driving people from the home-care industry, PSWs also struggle with the inconsistent hours of work, she said.

PSWs are required to work in the morning to help get their clients out of bed, toileted, bathed and fed. Then, the workers are required to return in the evening to help get those clients to bed.

“That is leaving a big hole in the day in terms of work,” VanderBent said.

People can’t survive on just working two hours in the morning and two hours at night, she added.

“We have to recruit people with a good salary … and we have to also give them hours, so that they are able to make a living wage,” VanderBent said.

A scathing report by the Ontario Health Coalition on the crisis in long-term care due to burnout suffered by PSWs, who are continually working short-staffed to the point that days off and vacations are regularly denied, was released on Wednesday.

A number of private companies that provide home care in the region were contacted about the shortage but did not respond by press time.

VanderBent said the Ministry of Health does recognize change needs to happen.

“Our government values personal support workers and the important services they provide to Ontarians,” said Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, in an email. “PSWs are critical to the delivery of high-quality home and community care and are a valued part of the care team.”

She noted Friday that Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of long-term care, announced the provincial government is investing more than $600,000 to support a new training partnership for PSWs in eastern Ontario.

“We are also currently in the process of working with our partners in health care to develop a PSW strategy that would optimize and stabilize Ontario’s PSW workforce,” Chazan said. “We look forward to having more to say in short order.”

An aging baby boomer generation is putting more pressure on the health-care system, a strain the home- and community-care sector can help ease, VanderBent said.

She said providing care for “chronic co-morbid conditions,” such as chronic obstructive lung disease and renal dialysis, can be done in the home.

She added palliative care could also be provided at home.

VanderBent said these measures would provide more hours to keep PSWs in the home-care sector working and reduce unnecessary trips to hospital emergency rooms.

“We are meant to be very, very busy taking care of people so they don’t have to go to the hospital unless they’re really acutely ill,” VanderBent said.

The Erie St. Clair LHIN stated it is committed to ensuring people in the region receive the care they need.

“Personal support workers play a vital role in the care of Ontarians living at home. The Erie St. Clair LHIN’s Home and Community Care program provides nearly 30,000 personal support worker hours to more than 5,400 patients every single week,” the LHIN said in a statement.

“We have been working with several of our academic and service provider partners to help promote and support community personal support work as a career choice. The Erie St. Clair LHIN, along with our PSW service provider organizations, is supporting a free personal support worker certificate training program for qualified students.”

A new session begins in Chatham this Monday. By the end of the April 2021, it is expected more than 175 students across Erie St. Clair will graduate from this PSW certification program.

“Our hope is that this training effort will encourage people to consider becoming a PSW,” the LHIN stated.

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