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Ontario’s PSW shortage is impacting people living with disabilities in Waterloo region

Posted: March 19, 2021

(March 18, 2021)

By: CBC News

A local advocate says PSW work is crucial and helps facilitate “someone else’s citizenship and their ability to participate in the community.” (iStock)

The shortage of personal support workers (PSWs) in the province in not only impacting people living in long-term care in Waterloo region, but people living with disabilities in an independent setting.

The staffing situation has had a life-altering impact on some people who live at home but rely on attendant services to help with day-to-day functions.

Dan Lajoie, virtual programs and community resource co-ordinator at the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region, has been using attendant services for the past 30 years.

“I can’t even measure the impact that it’s had on my life … I worked full time, I have a family, children, and I volunteer in the community … I have sort of a full life. So, without people to come in to assist, to enable me to do … simple things like getting out of bed and getting dressed and having a meal, without the support to do that, I wouldn’t be able to live the life that I have,” he said.

“So whenever there is something like a shortage or a deficit in that system, it has a real impact on my day-to-day life,” he added.

Lajoie said he’s had to rely on family members to fill the gap in services, but that’s not easy for a lot of people who depend on attendant services.

“The danger is that you’re either alone or now you’re looking to family and friends to support, which, in some situations is manageable for those who maybe live with family. But for those who don’t, that can have a severe impact if you don’t have somebody with you that fill in the gaps,” he said.

Provincial shortage

A report last year by the Ontario Health Coalition called the lack of PSWs in the province a crisis.

The report found that many PSWs were leaving the field after being overworked, underpaid, burned out or injured.

Last month, the ministers of long-term care and labour, training and skills development announced details of the $4.1-million plan to recruit and train 373 new PSWs across Ontario.

But both the Ontario Health Coalition and the Canadian Union of Public Employees say more than 20,000 PSWs are actually needed right now, mainly in the long-term care sector.

Candace Rennick, secretary-treasurer at CUPE Ontario, called for tuition to be waived and people offered compensation to take the training.

Getting more workers on board

Samantha Walsh, director of service at the centre, said the organization is working with school-work programs to try and recruit people interested in PSW and attendant service work.

“We’re always recruiting and hiring. We do a lot of on-the-job training and … we’re really looking for someone who’s interested in the kinds of services from a community impact perspective, from a vocational perspective. So someone who is looking for a career or work that will … make a difference and impact in both their community and individuals who need support,” she said, noting there has been more public knowledge about this type of work.

She hopes more people will choose this line of work because the limitations on staff has left consumers receiving services at non-priority times or from unfamiliar workers.

“If you are interested in being a PSW, you’re really interested in facilitating someone else’s citizenship and their ability to participate in the community,” said Walsh.

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