Jackie Lalancette was one of 13 newly accredited Personal Support Workers (PSWs) clad in dark blue scrubs to stroll across the stage at St. Jude Catholic School on Tuesday evening to receive their certification.
Lalancette was the new crop’s valedictorian. Though, she may have had a leg up on the rest of her classmates—she’s been a PSW for 16 years already.
No longer just a helper
Lalancette initially took a similar course to become a Health Care Aide (the equivalent of a PSW in Manitoba). She then chose to be re-certified when moving back to Ontario.
She says she’s glad she did because the job has changed a lot.
“Sixteen years ago, the nurse did everything and were their helpers… Now we’re more hands-on,” she says. “We still report to and help the nurse, but we’re more on the front line.”
PSWs now have more tasks delegated to them. Things like helping with physiotherapy exercises, or tube feedings through a jejunostomy feeding tube, which attaches directly to a person’s small intestine.
The important thing to keep in mind is delegation is on a per-client basis. Just because a nurse delegates a feeding for one person, doesn’t automatically mean a PSW can do it for another client as well.
The biggest difference though, says Lalancette, is the program pushing for home care.
“Before, everybody went to the nursing home or the retirement home. If you did stay home, you either had to rely on your family to help you or neighbours,” she says. And it was the same for PSWs.
“You took the course and you could go work in a nursing home, the hospital or a residence, they didn’t talk about home care.”
This PSW program is part of the School of Alternative and Continuing Education within the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.
Since 2006, it has been graduating anywhere between 95 and 115 new PSW every year.
And demand is only growing.
“Our main goal now, more than ever, is to try and keep people in their homes,” says Danielle Dawson. “Especially with the crowded hospitals and lack of beds.”
Dawson has been a nurse for seven years, she currently works with the crisis team based in Cornwall and was one of the instructors for this year’s PSW program.
Dave Chaplin is the principal of the School of Alternative and Continuing Education, he says 17 out of the 24 PSWs that graduated in Cornwall this year were hired full-time out of school.
“The demand is huge… especially for our geriatric population,” says Dawson.
The Champlain Community Care Access Centre, which is in charge of home care, reported at the end of March that 482 people were currently waiting for Personal Support & Respite care in the Eastern Counties; the longest wait is at 282 days. In February alone, 2,067 people received that type of service.
In 2008, the province started the Home First program, which pushed for older patients discharged from the hospital to go back home rather than to a long-term-care facility.
Home First was only implemented in the Champlain Local Health Integration Network between 2010 and 2011.
Last year, the National Post reported the median wait time for a spot in a long-term-care facility in the Champlain LHIN was 135 days. A scan of the CCAC’s February 2017 report on wait times for long-term-care facilities shows the median to be 489 days, though CCAC says the “available data is insufficient to be truly representative of actual wait times.” The facility with the shortest wait in the report is Prescott & Russell Residence in Hawkesbury, while the longest wait is at the Salvation Army Grace Manor in Ottawa.
“The more PSWs, the better because they can work to go into home,” says Dawson. “They’re trained to serve that type of care.”
If you think you or someone you know may qualify for home care, here are steps you can take for government-funded services.