Personal Support Workers (PSW) are on the front line of patient care in long-term care facilities, and there will soon be more of them working in Prescott and Russell counties.

On Friday, February 7, Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton announced at the Employment Services Centre of Prescott and Russell in Hawkesbury that the agency will receive $617,000 from the provincial government to train 30 new PSW’s in the region and to upgrade the skills for five existing PSW’s tuition-free.

The Skills Advance Ontario: Become a Personal Support Worker project will include a 36-week course where training is given in cooperation with local long-term care facilities and the employment services centre.

Fullerton said she has recognized the need for more PSW’s since becoming minister in 2019.  She is a family physician by profession and said their role is highly valued.

“They are the backbone of long-term care,” said Fullerton.

Training will begin in March and is to include instruction on compassion-fatigue, which has been identified as a reason many PSW’s leave their jobs.

“It’s become a struggle to recruit and retain our personal support workers,” Fullerton remarked.

She said that in 2018-2019, there was a 24 per cent increase in vacancies for PSW’s and related positions in Ontario.

Prescott-Russell Residence Director of Nursing Care Paule Juillet said front-line staff are needed for quality and safety of care.

Margery Joly, Regional Director of Operations for the Caressant Care long-term care facility in Bourget, said there are not enough new PSW candidates available to meet staffing needs, noting that six positions must be filled in the region she oversees.

There was a common thread of personal experiences shared throughout the announcement.  Fullerton, United Counties of Prescott and Russell Warden Pierre Leroux, and local resident Francine Berthiaume all referred to needs they have seen in the long-term care system when they had elderly parents living in facilities.

Employment services centre Executive Director Caroline Arcand said the idea for the PSW training program was first suggested by Richard Leblanc, the Hawkesbury-based Eastern Ontario Area Coordinator for the United Steelworkers union (USW).  The union represents many PSW’s at long-term care facilities throughout the region.

“Our union is pleased there will now be tuition-free training for PSW’s in the region,” Leblanc said.

Arcand was hopeful that further financial support for PSW training could be available in the future.

Fullerton could not indicate if the funding announced on February 7 was part of the 2019 provincial budget or will be considered part of the 2020 budget.

Skills Development Coordinator Jean Dubois will be overseeing the Personal Support Worker training program for the Employment Services Centre of Prescott and Russell.