The COVID-19 pandemic has us banging pots every night to honour the front-line workers. But who exactly are these heroes? Many of them are Personal Support Workers (PSWs).

What exactly is a PSW?

Personal Support Workers are trained in caregiving protocols and techniques. Their training may range from months in private training academies or years in community colleges.They may work in nursing homes, hospitals or in private homes.

Personal Support Workers provide care to any person who require personal assistance with ‘activities of daily living’ (ADLs). PSW’s provide personal care and related  services in accordance with an established plan of care, typically involving both personal care tasks and incidental activities of daily living such as housekeeping, meal preparation, socialization and companionship.

It is skilled, heavy and often thankless work with significant risk of violence and injury. Fees are often quoted as $25-$30 an hour, but while the care agency may charge this amount, the worker gets minimum wage and usually no benefits. Many are new immigrants sending funds back to their native country and sponsoring their families to join them in Canada.

What can’t be taught is being able to care, to have the tact to convince a resident to take a shower or help a dementia resident on the toilet. The PSW’s role can be complicated and require life experience as well as formal training.

Challenges to the Profession

One challenge is that PSws are not registered, and regulation is not consistently applied. The Ontario PSW Association, https://www.ontariopswassociation.com was created in 2010. OPSWA  represents tens of thousands of PSWs across Ontario, providing guidance on professional conduct, establishing and encouraging province-wide standards of knowledge and ethics for all PSWs.

The Need for Recognition

No-on can disagree that PSW’s work should be more respected and more highly paid – but – compare that to the pressure for senior care homes to make a profit for their shareholders.

This pandemic has provided a tragic opportunity for our society to re-organize the senior care sector to helps seniors not just survive, but thrive. We can’t do that without valued, well-paid and properly supported care workers. We can do this!