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.”

If you have an interesting story to share about a PSW, share your story on www.seiuhealthcare.ca/rise.

G.A.D.

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

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.

A great announcement and a great day…but now what?

April 29, 2014 was a special day. Two groups of people that don’t normally spend a lot of time together packed a large room in the Toronto Reference Library: personal support workers (PSWs) and politicians.

“Today I wish to pay special respect to those who work in community and homecare,” said the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Deb Matthews, to the PSWs who had made the trip. “The bottom line is you’re not paid enough.”

As a homecare PSW in Ontario for more than 20 years, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of changes. Throughout the years, we went from making more money for less work, to a declining progression of making less money for more work.

The main reason is no pay increase in years, while everything else has sky-rocketed, such as gas, car insurance, repair and maintenance, and this is just to get out to work. Then there is rent, mortgage, food, uniform, and often child care, just to mention a few essentials. – Carmen Barnwell, PSW from Oakville

Minister Matthews and her staff had invited unions and professional associations to attend a big announcement about homecare funding. The government was hinting that it would be a raise to go directly to homecare workers.

A sea of purple filled the room. Minister Matthews herself wore a mauve dress as a nod to the colours of SEIU Healthcare, the union that has been lobbying to fix the homecare system for over 20 years. Many of the PSWs in attendance were nervous and excited to see if their work on the “Sweet $16” campaign was going to make change.

John Newman, a PSW client, spoke on stage, sitting in his wheelchair. He teared up saying he “didn’t look forward to [his] future” before starting homecare. His wife Shirley said that John’s PSW takes such good care not only of him, but her as well by relieving her “of a lot of thinking and worrying.”

Before making their announcement, both Minister Matthews and Finance Minister Charles Sousa took some time to share their stories about homecare workers. “You make us all so very, very proud” said Charles Sousa to the PSWs in purple shirts. And Deb Matthews played the Walk-a-day video she did with PSW Juliette Chesney from Milton, Ontario, who was also in the crowd.

The Minister spoke about a SEIU Healthcare PSW from Hamilton. She said: “Last year, Rachel made $16,000. She’s counted among the working poor. She’d make a lot more money working in long-term care or in a hospital.”

Then, the Minister gave details. She promised that all publicly-funded homecare and community care personal support workers in Ontario would get a raise of $1.50 retroactive to April 1, 2014, regardless of whether or not the Liberal budget were to pass. The room erupted in celebration.

Since then, an election has been called for June 12, 2014. Deb Matthews has repeated that the $1.50 across-the-board raise will be given to all Ontario publicly-funded homecare and community care PSWs. But with election campaigns in full swing, no one knows yet exactly when or how that money will be paid out. The rest of the items Minister Matthews promised depend on the outcome of the election on June 12.

Tim Hudak recently said a PC government would cancel planned raises to homecare PSWs. SEIU Healthcare is calling on Andrea Horwath’s NDP to match or surpass the historic measures for homecare workers promised by the Liberal government.

Sweet $16 is a platform to advocate for several key changes to homecare, but the compensation issue stands out. All political parties should commit to immediate raises for homecare PSWs and working hard to fix the many issues faced by the sector, for the betterment of both the workers and their dear clients.

G.W.

Why homecare workers need a raise

This short video reminds Ontarians what homecare personal support workers (PSWs) do and how much we rely on them as a society. Almost everyone knows a special someone who is keen (or even insistent) on staying at home because they want to live independently. But they need help. Homecare PSWs need help too. The Sweet $16 campaign is about more than wages, however. It calls on the Ontario government to do four concrete things to fix the Ontario homecare system. Share the video and email your MPP to help raise awareness about this issue!

G.W.

$16/hour minimum for homecare PSWs is a question of need, not just worth

While a group of about 80 personal support workers (PSWs) were talking about SEIU Healthcare’s “Sweet $16” campaign at a conference in Toronto in early March, a woman stood up to make a very important point.

“My only issue,” she said “is only saying that we deserve a $16 per hour minimum wage. We really need it. I can’t afford to live like this anymore.”

In Ontario, unlike PSW work in other sectors such as long-term care, which pays an average of $20/hour, homecare work currently pays far less than what the PSWs both need and deserve.

Chrystal is a single mom who relies on subsidized childcare to afford to go to work. Those are her own words. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work—especially not for healthcare workers who put their heart and soul into keeping people comfortable at home. Chrystal should be able to work full-time, reliable hours at a decent wage, raise her son, and maybe save a little on the side. But that’s not how it is right now.

She provides her services to people in their own homes because she believes that rather than be forced into retirement or long-term care homes, people “should be able to stay where they are comfortable.”

Watch homecare PSW Chrystal talk about her work and what $16/hour would mean to her:

While homecare PSWs do a lot of physical and technical work in the home to monitor and maintain clients’ health, they also provide emotional support and help with social isolation. Many visits start off with a cup of tea or a chat, and sometimes their PSW is the only person a client sees all day or week.

You can see that Chrystal believes in the work she does. She knows her fellow PSWs care, too: “I think homecare workers have their heart in homecare for a reason and that is to help people have a quality of life.”

The only provincial standard for homecare wages is that PSWs must be paid a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Especially when taking into account the fact that most companies don’t properly reimburse for travel time and distance, or guarantee hours paid, this is not nearly enough.

A $16/hour floor would be a good start, but homecare PSWs and their advocates will need to push for parity with PSW work in the long-term care and hospital sectors.

Higher pay is better for the workers, it’s better for the clients, and it’s better for all Ontarians who will be able to attract and retain skilled PSWs in homecare. And we will all likely need their services one day.

G.W.