The personal support workers (PSWs) in Ontario are experiencing the largest transition ever in their professional history. The staffing crisis in both long-term and home care was only exacerbated by the pandemic and the need to rebuild this profession has never been greater. While this is a daunting undertaking, it is also an opportunity to professionalize through higher standards.
Such standards have already been undertaken in the passing of Bill 283, Advancing Oversight and Planning in Ontario's Health System Act, 2021, which will erect a professional perimeter and title protection around this workforce for the first time in its history. In short, this means Ontarians will no longer be receiving personal care from nonprofessional health care providers.
It may come as a shock that those who have been performing personal care on our most vulnerable are not regulated and not accountable to the public that they serve. Such activities were unheard of throughout most of the 20th century as personal care was traditionally carried out by registered nurses. As the nursing profession evolved, it moved from delegating personal care tasks to unregulated personal care workers to focusing on clinical and diagnostic work.
Over time, this delegation became entrenched, and the personal support worker role was created. This role would quickly become omnipresent throughout our health and social delivery systems as these workers did the job that “anybody could do” and concurrently “could do any job”. As such, these workers quickly found themselves the collective atlas of our social welfare system.
As time goes on, this collective atlas is beginning to tire, their strength is being spent in combatting the first pandemic in a century and their morale has withered. Our governments have promised and paid millions in pandemic wages, and offered free education, all while opening the floodgates to prevent the atlas’s fall.
To no avail, our health human resource crisis continues, our capacity gap will be unimpacted and thousands may be forcibly moved into long-term care. This is not a future that anyone wants and no one deserves – this simply needs to end.
Thankfully, here in Ontario, we are close to reversing this and offering a future that will see thousands of PSWs return and reinforce this workforce. This change is simple and is called professional respect and it can be easily achieved by simply protecting the title of the PSW. This simple change will transform this nebulous group into a recognized and robust profession, a profession whose title cannot be stolen.
Over the last ten years, and even during the pandemic itself, this workforce – many of whom had to borrow money to finance their education – saw their education being used by their direct managers to train cheaper and newly created health-care titles (i.e., resident care aides, home support workers or supportive care assistant) who, once trained, replaced PSWs. These employers are stealing the education of PSWs – so why would anyone want to pay to be a PSW in the future? Because their titles will be guaranteed through regulations, which make it illegal for any company to hire anyone to perform personal care and enter their homes after hours unless they are a professional and fully insured and licensed PSW.
As the largest workforce in Ontario’s health care community – the PSW deserves title protection, the respect for holding us all up, keeping us going and being our collective atlas.
This article was written by Miranda Ferrier, CEO and President of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, and is a piece of sponsored content.
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