PSWs Are ‘Angels In The Fog’

Meet Bianca. She has a 75-year old father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. A growing number of his memories are lost in a fog which he can’t remember or locate anymore. That’s why Bianca is happy to know he is being cared for by a highly qualified team of Personal Support Workers (PSW)s to look after his daily needs in a nursing home located in a small community north of Toronto.

“They are there because they care.”

“The PSWs who care for him are always so friendly,” said Bianca. “They take their time with him, even though their conversations aren’t that coherent. Every PSW I have come across is genuine. They are there because they care. They always say hello to him. They always let me know how he is doing.”

Her father seems to be happy with the care he is receiving from the PSWs at the nursing home. He has a good rapport with them and has grown very close to them. She can tell just by the way he speaks and interacts with them.

Her father always loved music and especially dancing. One day, when the stereo system was playing some Motown music, he began to dance. A staff member took some photos and mailed them to Bianca. She posted the pictures on her fridge to remind her that he is being cared for by qualified healthcare professionals. He can still find little snippets of happiness in a world that is very confusing for him.

When she visits him, she watches the PSWs walk by and say hello. Everyone is very patient and it’s their second nature to acknowledge every resident.

“PSWs do this job with heart,” she added. “Anyone can walk into a job and just show up for a pay cheque. But PSWs are different. They do it because they enjoy their job. They come to work with love, care and compassion for their residents. It’s my biggest blessing.”

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Showing Justin Trudeau hands-on personal support work

On June 19, SEIU Healthcare invited Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, and Thomas Mulcair to walk a day in a homecare worker’s shoes. Justin Trudeau was the first to accept the offer and he spent a day with Emily, a Toronto personal support worker who wanted to show him what her job is all about. Watch the result below.

Emily and Justin visited Antonietta, an 81-year-old Italian woman who lives alone. Without Emily, she wouldn’t be able to take good enough physical care of herself to continue safely living on her own.

Framed pictures of her family back home and here in Canada are laid out carefully across the fireplace mantel in her living room. “She has a supportive family,” says Emily. “Everyone does their part. Some clients have no one or no one to help.”

Emily is caring, funny, busy, and extremely hard-working. Like many PSWs, she works two jobs to be able to earn enough each month. She starts her personal support work in the early morning, and then at night, she helps her parents with cleaning contracts.

Her parents are seniors but can’t retire yet from their cleaning business. This is something that 30-year-old Emily is concerned about for herself. Most workers in the homecare field don’t have retirement security.

“The families are so grateful, they tell me ‘Emily, don’t leave!’” she laughs. In the video, she explains further, saying “I really do care for people, but I have to look after myself as well. We need a little bit of help and support and some kind of retirement security with some kind of pension. We’re humans too.”

Emily was happy to give Justin Trudeau an idea of what the life of PSWs is really like. Moved by the experience, he called PSWs “an essential part of our healthcare system but also communities.”

By 2036, nearly 1 in 4 Canadians will be a senior, and the need for homecare is only growing. Two million Canadians currently get care, and 500,000 have unmet needs. These are people like Antonietta; our family members, our friends, ourselves.

We are all rising for homecare

Across the world, the demand for homecare is growing. Our healthcare system needs to provide the best possible care for patients, clients and residents in the comfort of their own home. That’s why SEIU Healthcare is running a public awareness campaign called Rise for Homecare. There are a lot of people who have been telling us they feel the same way.

Take Robin Plein, a PSW from Timmins, for instance.

“So what does a senior need to stay at home? A reasonably comfortable safe place, good simple food – not frozen dinners. They also need to socialize, with us and others. They need to get out, walk, and if possible, feel useful. They all have different needs,” she says.

Homecare PSWs are dedicated to their job and their clients. Just listen to what PSW Debbie Kruk has to say.

“We PSW’s make sacrifices to work this job. Why do we do it? We love the people we look after and our jobs. People are struggling out there on their own. We care for blind, elderly people in their nineties, living in their home.”

“As far as I can see the need for homecare has risen,” Debbie added.

Many people value the work PSWs do for their families. Just ask Judith Medwid, a parent who lost her daughter to a neurological disease last year. Her daughter was only 43 years old.

“I have the utmost praise for every PSW who took care of my daughter in her last year of life. They were very caring, cheerful and above all, professional, right to the last day of her life. Help was only a phone call away. Thanks with all our hearts. ❤”

Homecare workers like Shereta Bowers is the type of homecare worker people relyon.

“As a home care worker going in the retirement home in the morning to care for my clients, it is a joyful experience for me,” Shereta says.

Cynthia Colby is a family member who also understands the important work PSWs do for their clients.

“I am a family member who fully supports your initiatives toward improving homecare access, wage increases for PSWs. My Mother has Alzheimer’s. She lives at home with her husband. She would be living in a nursing home if we didn’t have a caregiver providing her with some relief. Thanks for all you do!”

What do you think of our homecare system? You can also join the conversation at our Rise for Homecare campaign page. Let us know. Rise with us. Together, we can help create a stronger, better homecare system.

Behind the Scenes: PSW Day at Queen’s Park

SEIU Healthcare’s PSWs are quite well-known at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Invited on behalf of the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins, I followed five Personal Support Workers as they spent the morning of May 14th exploring one of Ontario’s most historic government buildings.

Seated in the Speaker’s Gallery upon arrival, Ghiti Iravani, Hazel John, Theresa Matteer, Penney Murphy, and Theresa Thomas represented Personal Support Workers in Community Care, Long-Term Care and Homecare across the province. Later, they stood and received a standing ovation from all three parties of the Legislative Assembly.

“It was nice that we were recognized by Eric Hoskins,” said Long-Term Care PSW Hazel John from Tendercare Nursing Home. “It made us feel special as proud SEIU PSWs.”

The SEIU Healthcare PSWs were also greeted by a familiar face while seated in the Speaker’s Gallery. Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Pension Plan) Mitzie Hunter left her seat to pop by for a warm greeting, welcoming all that were in attendance at Queen’s Park.

“I saw some old friends sitting over here so I had to come by and say hello,” said Hunter, who participated in SEIU Healthcare’s celebration of Black History Month last February.

Mitize Hunter and Eric Hoskins both stopped to chat and take a few photos with our Personal Support Workers once there was a break in Question Period.

“We’ve got to make sure that PSWs are treated with respect and dignity and that your salary levels reflect as well the important work that you do,” said Hoskins.

Our Personal Support Workers were then given a tour of the historic structure, stopping to view the various displays, one of which showcased the historic nursing uniforms from the 1930s, showing how far we’ve come from traditional nursing attire and image.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to take part in today’s experience,” said Theresa Matteer, PSW at Fairview Nursing Home. “There’s no question that they [the MPPs] understand the value that PSWs bring to Ontario’s healthcare system across all fields, and if they don’t know we’ll enlighten them.”

We Need A Stronger Homecare System

The demand on healthcare services is growing. According to the recent report published by the Conference Board of Canada in April 2015 called Understanding Health and Social Services for Seniors in Canada, it explains how the growing number of seniors are driving up demand for healthcare services.

The number of seniors who need healthcare is much higher than their younger counterparts. The amount of money spent on someone’s health needs in their 80s is much higher than someone in their 20s, 30s or 40s. And the number of seniors is growing.

In 1971, 8 percent of Canadians were 65 and older. In 2011 that number increased to 15 percent. By 2036 that number is projected to increase to a whopping 25 percent. Not only does that mean the number of Canadians who require large amounts of health spending is going to increase, the number people who are of working age (ages 15 to 64) is dropping. That means we have a smaller tax base to raise the money we need to properly care for our growing senior’s health needs. Right now there are 5 working Canadians for every senior. By 2030 that number will drop by nearly half to 2.7.

That’s why we need a stronger homecare system to look after the needs of our aging population. SEIU Healthcare has recently launched a campaign called Rise for Homecare. As demand for homecare grows, we need to build a homecare system that looks after our seniors properly.

Rise with us. Rise for Homecare!


I Am Rising for Homecare

how will you rise for homecare

This weekend I’m going to go see my parents; they live a few hours away in the house I was born and raised in. It’s a house that is full of old trophies, graduation pictures, half a dozen typewriters, hundreds of old stamps, the largest spice collection in North America, and drawers full of collectible china (my Dad loves collecting things!) This is the house they’ve owned and lived in since 1980. No matter how far they travel or how many weeks of the year they are away, they always look forward to coming home.

There is something comforting and even rejuvenating about being home- I’m guessing this story isn’t unique to my family.

I am Rising for Homecare, because one day my parents may need some extra care & support, and I am certain they will want to be cared for in their own home.

Across Ontario, we know that the population continues to live longer, healthier lives. We know that in twenty years almost 1 in 4 of us will be a senior- it might even be you. Homecare may not be the only solution to our aging population, but research indicates it’s a valuable solution.

It’s a solution that people desire, deserve and depend on.

If you know someone who receives care in their home…
If you know a Personal Support Worker…
If you’ve ever received homecare or are a PSW…
If you think you deserve to age with dignity…
If you love your parents & grandparents…
Then It’s Time to Rise for Homecare.

There are a number of ways you can Rise for Homecare. Now is the time to:

Articulate your thoughts in a story

ommunicate your views by signing a letter to your MPP online

ell your friends & family

And don’t forget to tell us when you #riseforhomecare


How grandma Kay got homecare

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.”