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.

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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.

 

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.

“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.

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“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.

ParaMed Revera Acquisition, the Story behind “The Story”!

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This past week Extendicare announced they had entered into an agreement to acquire Revera Home Health, sending a shock wave through the home care sector. This positions ParaMed, the home care arm of Extendicare, to be the largest provider of home care services in the country.

While executives and shareholders celebrate, others decry the deal, suggesting it will have a negative impact on the quality of care. Although I would tend to agree, it surprises me that the hidden story of the decision by Revera in December to drastically cut the travel and mileage benefits for their non-union home care employees has largely been ignored!

At the time Revera characterized these cuts as a means to make themselves more competitive by mitigating some financial difficulties and aligning themselves with the rates provided by competitors. Looking at it retrospectively, however the correlation between the cuts and the sale seems irrefutable and leaves me with no choice but to conclude that the cuts were designed simply to make Revera more profitable at the expense of the workers so they could sell.

Yet again selfless home care workers find themselves the unwilling martyrs of corporate greed. What a shame.

This situation underscores the uncertainty and instability the system is creating for homecare workers and is a reminder that the only real stability comes from having a union. Right now hundreds of RNs, RPNs & PSWs from Revera Home Health are working with us to do exactly that and I encourage others to do the same no matter where you work!

At the end of the day unions are truly the last line of defence of our healthcare system which is increasingly vulnerable to the instability of these uncertain times. In my view the wellbeing of caregivers and clients will be forever intertwined. That is to say when the conditions of work are good so are the conditions of care and vice versa.

Whether unionized or not all healthcare workers are faced with a choice whether to stand idly and watch standards crumble or stand up to demand what the people who work and depend on our healthcare system deserve.

I choose the latter. What about you?

J.K.

Remembering those who went on strike for this raise

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If you paid close attention to the Ontario election that just happened you may have learned what homecare is (as opposed to hospital or long-term care) and who personal support workers (PSWs) are.

And if you were paying super close attention to the news during the winter, you may have heard about the 2-week strike that PSWs went on to protest their contract negotiations breaking down with their employer, homecare agency Red Cross Care Partners.

This summer Ontario PSWs (the more than 30,000 of them!) have a great reason to celebrate: a $1.50/hour raise was finally approved in the government’s budget, to be followed by other raises altogether totaling $4/hour by 2016.

This is exactly why those 4,500 hard workers went on strike: they knew the homecare wage situation was getting desperate, and needed to do something to help change that at the political level.

So it was very troubling for me to hear from a homecare PSW living in a small town in the Niagara region. She wrote:

“We have lost several terrific PSWs off our team over the last two months. Most of these PSWs supported our strike during the horrific winter weather, so it saddens me that they have decided to leave before the raise was implemented. The raise is much needed with the rising gas costs and to ensure that there is a better future for those of us who work in homecare, so I am hoping that this will come before we lose any more members.”

That says it all.

The hope is that one day the government will accept that homecare wages will be at parity with long-term care personal support work. But change is so frustratingly slow. However, the first ask of the “Sweet $16” campaign has been achieved and together we are on the right path.

G.W.