This job isn’t for everyone – our Heroes of Homecare

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Ontarians depend on the support our Personal Support Workers (PSWs) provide every day. We want everyone to understand the skilled care, love and compassion they provide.

This job isn’t for everyone; it takes a special kind of person to do their job. They are our Heroes of Homecare. Our healthcare system couldn’t operate without them. That’s why we’re asking those who receive care from a PSW and your families to tell us how your PSW helps you retain your independence in your own home and why this is important to you.

It’s easy – just visit our website and tell us your homecare story in your own words. #RiseForHomecare

Heroes of Homecare

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I became a PSW to help seniors stay in their home as long as they could. To give dignity and kindness and love. So many seniors fall through the cracks because they have no one to help, or family, or they are too proud to ask. I try to make their day good and happy, and make them feel good about themselves.

Giselle Ralph, PSW

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I love helping people who can’t help themselves. To be able to earn the trust of your clients even when everything around them seems to be disappearing such as their spouse, health or independence is a great gift.

Darla Fiset, PSW

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Calling all families of homecare

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When I was 11 years old, there was a fire at my house and my little sister, who was 10 at the time was badly burned. 80% of her body was covered with scar tissue and it took a lot of sensitive skin grafting to heal her. Afterwards, I took care of her. I helped with her physio, changed her dressings, prepared her medications because she couldn’t do it for herself and help her dress. As a burn victim she had to wear special clothing all over her entire body.

That’s why I became a PSW. Through caring for my sister, I found I wanted to help others. Someone has to do it. This happened in the mid-1980s and there weren’t homecare services like we have today. As a front line PSW I can give people the assistance they need to keep their lifestyles as they were before the ailment hit them. Andy Elliot, Personal Support Worker

The truth is, many of us probably don’t even realize that homecare impacts us. But think about your neighbours, parents, grandparents and friends. How do they survive day to day? Chances are they are a homecare recipient. In other words, someone comes to their home on a regular basis to support their living, whether it’s a bath, cleaning up after them, feeding them, doing their laundry, and so on (though we know that homecare workers do so much more than that).

When was the last time you checked in to see what type of care your loved ones have received? Often times we don’t, because we are confident that our families are receiving some of the best care under the wing of frontline homecare workers such as Andy.

Andy’s story above is one of the many reasons why it’s important we, as a collective whole, rise for homecare. People who are or will be impacted by homecare are all around you: the person sitting next to you on the bus, driving alongside you on the highway, standing in front of you in the lunch line- all of these folks either know someone who has received homecare or will one day need these services themselves. But PSWs aren’t the only ones with stories- families of homecare have some of the most touching accounts. That’s why we are calling on families of homecare to come forward and join the movement. Tell us how your life has been impacted by homecare; it’s time we hear from you.

 

2 years later: remembering the homecare strike

Homecare - the journey continues

We’re nearing the end of 2015 and it’s been 2 years since what we call around here “the Red Cross strike.”

$12.50/hour. At the time, that was the minimum wage for homecare personal support workers (PSWs)—the people who support you, listen to you, check in on you and help you with activities of daily living when you need extra help to live independently at home.

And PSWs weren’t getting the respect they deserved either. Contract negotiation after contract negotiation, they were offered either nothing at all, or tiny raises. Given the cost of living, and given the fact that most PSWs use their own vehicles and don’t get paid in between client visits, this was unsustainable.

Our members felt they had to do what no care provider ever wants to do, and went on strike. About 4,500 homecare workers across the province were taking a stand.

2013 Red Cross strike

President Sharleen Stewart keeps spirits up on the picket line in Bancroft in 2013

It was the holiday season and a very cold and snowy winter. The strike lasted for two weeks, and finally came to an end on Christmas Eve when the employer agreed to arbitration.

The strike challenged everyone. It challenged workers to show up to the picket line and stand in solidarity. It challenged union leadership to find an appropriate and fair resolution as quickly as possible. It challenged the media to care about these individuals who are some of the lowest paid healthcare workers out there. It challenged homecare clients and families to support their PSWs even though they weren’t getting the service they deserved while their PSWs were out on strike.

And it challenged the Ontario government to take PSWs seriously and recognize the incredible value they bring to the healthcare system.

Thanks to those who stood up, and thanks to those who have gotten engaged in politics as part of SEIU Healthcare’s “purple party,” over 30,000 PSWs got raises from the government, and the minimum wage for PSWs in 2016 will be $16.50/hour as a result of our Sweet $16 campaign.

Throughout this process, SEIU Healthcare members have advocated for Ontarians to Rise for Homecare. For this reason, when we heard the news that the homecare system is undergoing restructuring in an effort to provide more streamlined care to clients, we were naturally thrilled. This time of year brings about feelings of hope and faith, and it’s announcements like this that make us feel as though we are moving forward in homecare; more importantly, that we are recognizing that frontline workers and homecare recipients deserve better.

Change is happening.

We are glad our homecare members will be warm inside this winter, but we think of those who were out on the picket lines two years ago, and all workers who are standing up today for what they deserve – it is thanks to these individuals and their solidarity that we are able to make progress together.

When you’re the new kid at Convention

Many of the 400 healthcare workers and official convention delegates have never been to such a union gathering, where members vote on officers and members of the Executive Board and discuss political direction.

Some people are seeing friends and other familiar faces; lots came alone and are meeting their fellow union members for the first time.

Pam Arnold, a healthcare assistant, has been working at a private retirement home in Brampton for 28 years. It seems like she has her union rep to thank for inviting her to apply to attend SEIU Healthcare’s convention.

“My union rep said ‘come and see what it’s all about’ and I said ‘why not?’ It’s something new and different. I’ve never been outside my realm like this.”

Pam mentioned the opportunity to listen to the Ontario Premier speak to convention delegates as an example of one of the advantages to getting more involved with the union.

Reena and Pam

Reena Panchoo describes her entry into the union in a wry, humorous way, saying “my ex-manager [now a union rep for SEIU Healthcare] bullied me to come in as a steward.”

A homecare personal support worker (PSW) in Brampton for the last 13 years, Reena points out that it’s really hard to get everyone at work together for union meetings and events.

Still, she says:

“I love it. It’s really good helping other co-workers. You’re aware of what’s going on in the company, you’re more aware of the issues that we have not only as one person but all together. It’s a very fulfilling role.”

Here’s hoping people like Pam and Reena will return to their workplaces and inspire others who are curious about unions to get involved to fight for a better life for working people in Ontario – in individual workplaces and beyond.

“Paying my dues to elderly and vulnerable folks”

SEIU Healthcare member Handel Dockery grew up in Jamaica in a family of 10 children and no father. He is now a 65-year-old Canadian, a father with 7 kids of his own, and working as a community care personal support worker (PSW) in Burlington. He is a strong man, but like all of us, he had some help getting to where he is today.

Handel Dockery

“I’ve done many things in my life. I decided I would become a PSW when I really understood what the work was. The people we were serving were working their jobs and paying their taxes and helped me when I was in need. I feel very happy about what I’m doing because I’m paying my dues to society that those older and vulnerable folks deserve to have from me.”

The encouragement of friends recently inspired Handel to write a book about his life.

He has seen many things in between his childhood in Jamaica and the life he lives in Ontario now – working without papers as a farmer in the United States, coming to Canada on the run, starting a construction business, losing much of its possessions in a fire. But he persevered with writing his life’s story in Handel: My Journey to a Better Life. To find out more details, you’ll have to order it, or go see Handel in person at his first book signing at the Hamilton Indigo store on Saturday, September 5, 12-5 p.m.

As a young immigrant to Canada in the 1970s, Handel says he was given many opportunities to further his education in the form of government grants and loans. He has been forever grateful for that assistance and to the people who paid into the social safety net that benefited him at the time.

He’s been working as a PSW for 20 years. The downside of the job, Handel says, is that PSWs don’t get paid enough for what they do.

But here’s the upside:

“There’s a great satisfaction in knowing that you are helping those that are vulnerable and really need your service.”

The helpfulness genes seem to run in the family. One of his kids is a teacher, another a social worker. Handel says of them all: “I’m very proud of them.” You might say this story has a happy ending.

G.W.

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.

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!

G.A.D