Working at a homecare union is personal for me. My grandmother, Catherine, or Kay for short, is a homecare client in Grey County.
The recent StatsCan report about people with unmet needs in homecare (there are more than 790,000 of them across the country!) got me thinking about how she got her service.
I asked her if she is happy with her homecare service. She said yes. I asked her if it was easy for her to get it in the first place. She said yes. She is fortunate to not be among the over ¾ of a million Canadians who need more homecare (some don’t receive any at all).
So here’s how it happened: She had been living alone for less than a year (her 50-plus year partner, my grandfather Herb, died in 2012) when she passed out at home after a long day trip on a bus with other seniors. She had to knock the phone off the kitchen counter from the ground where she fell to call for help.
Ending up in the hospital for over for over six weeks, Kay was physically weakened by the time she was well enough to leave. Before this all happened, she did all housework and personal care herself. “Grandpa did stuff too,” she says. “Lifting things and vaccuming.”
CCAC staff came to visit Kay while she was in hospital. “My doctor insisted I have somebody.” They set her up with seven straight days of homecare when she returned home from hospital, followed by two homecare visits a week after that.
These days, her female PSW gives Kay a shower, but she won’t let her male PSW do that. For Kay, one shower a week is enough. “I can give myself a sponge bath the rest of the time, and the bathroom is big enough for the walker.” She can manage mostly on her own.
Kay is pleased with her PSWs. “They always ask me how I am and they always call when they’re on their way. If I’m not here or forget to get in touch, they call and report that I wasn’t there.”
It becomes apparent while speaking to my grandma about her daily life that she has lots of contact with the outside world. “I go to the seniors’ lunch the second Tuesday of the month, and the seniors’ supper, and I go out and play cards, I go for drives. Sometimes I drive, sometimes they drive…I’ve lived here for so long, I have friends that come in, stay and have coffee.”
The system has worked well for Kay, with her doctor getting her homecare set up. She is lucky, saying “I have family that call to see how I am,” and adding as a nod to me, her interviewer, “even the grandkids call and see how I am.”
For Kay, living at home is better than living in a nursing home. “I’m sure gonna stay here as long as I can.”
Unfortunately, many people in Canada are socially isolated and have more complicated personal support needs, so the homecare system is not working for everyone. I’ll end this with a short letter from a member of ours:
“I am a homecare worker (PSW) in Brampton and unfortunately I have to agree [with the Toronto Star] that ‘in short, the existing system is chaotic, inadequate, unfair, inequitable and sorely in need of reform.’ Many clients should be getting more hours of personal care but they’re not. The majority of people only get two visits per week, and that means two showers. Through the Sweet $16 campaign we have been fighting to improve the system. We need to keep more young people in the homecare sector. After 11 years I make $15.23/hour and although PSWs look after sick people, we don’t get any sick days ourselves. I hope to see things change.”