Personal Support Workers Bringing Strength to The Canadian Healthcare System

Personal support workers (PSWs) are some of the great unsung heroes of Canadian health care. They provide care and assistance to those with chronic illness, disability, and other conditions. PSWs provide care in-home and in-facilities, relieving stress on other care providers, while offering critical support to patients.

With great compassion and respect, they provide care and the necessities of life for those who need it most. Their work isn’t glamorous. It can be mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding. Often, it’s thankless. But if you ask a PSW why they do what they do, they’ll invariably tell you that helping people is their most significant reward.

Awareness of the value these professionals provide for clients, for care agencies and facilities, and for the health care sector as a whole is growing. That said, we believe that PSWs are still seriously under-appreciated. In this post, we’ll tell you why we think everyone should do a little something to acknowledge the contributions of those in the field.

What it Takes to be a Personal Support Worker

Canada’s population is aging. As our citizens get older, their care needs are becoming more urgent and complex. From long-term care facilities to home care agencies, personal support workers have never been more in demand. But it takes a special kind of caregiver to excel in these roles. A great PSW is flexible. They’re willing to go above and beyond, to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities, to adapt quickly to the needs of their clients.

Because the scope of services they provide is so broad, PSWs touch on practically every area of their clients’ lives. Patience and compassion are two other traits an excellent PSW has no shortage of. They listen actively, paying close attention to the body language and mannerisms of their clients. As they get to know the people they work with, they learn to intuit their needs almost immediately (after all, some clients may be nonverbal). This skill springs from a natural ability to imagine the man with dementia as a father, the girl struggling with mobility issues as a sister.

Mental strength and endurance are also important. A great home care PSW walks bravely into the houses and apartments of people they don’t know. They may have to contend with clients who are unable or unwilling to welcome them. If they work in a facility, the environment is busy and demanding. At any given time, they are caring for numerous people – several of whom may be prone to agitation or confusion. These are conditions not all of us are mentally equipped to handle.

Growing Appreciation for Canadian Personal Support Workers

There’s an ongoing push to increase our general awareness of the contributions nurses make to health care. This movement has been picking up steam for years. It was back in 1985 that the Canadian government instituted National Nursing Week.

More recently, studies have uncovered some truths about nursing that may seem, to many of us, like common sense. Such as: nurses often do more than support doctors by adequately carrying out their functions. Their knowledge contributes directly to the success of hospitals.

We couldn’t be happier to see nurses receiving this type of recognition. But what about PSWs? Where are the studies measuring the value these professionals provide for the organizations they work for? Returns on investment into the support and professional development of PSWs would undoubtedly be high, given the broad scope of activities these individuals perform. And yet, despite all that PSWs do, many Canadians have no idea who they are. Some never even hear the term “personal support worker” until a loved one requires compassionate care.

Policy Changes to Support PSWs

Fortunately, things are starting to change, especially in Ontario. In 2010, the Ontario’s PSWs were given their own day of appreciation – an important symbolic gesture. More importantly, in 2020, the provincial government put a $1.3 billion plan into motion to temporarily increase personal support worker wages, a move that will hopefully lead to more increases in the near future. Will these changes result in greater public recognition of PSWs? Only time will tell.

The True Value of Compassion

So, why are we so thankful to PSWs for the incredible work they do? Personal support workers ensure that the care their clients receive is complete. From the practical to the intimate, PSWs see what needs to be done to make people feel happier, healthier, and more comfortable. They perform these duties with great sensitivity. When PSWs look at our parents, our grandparents, and our siblings, they don’t see tasks to be completed. They see people with unique personalities, histories, and quirks. This is true even of clients who, due to their conditions, display challenging or frightening behaviours.

In the years ahead, many of us will require professional care. Don’t we want the person tending to us to be patient and compassionate? Won’t we be hoping for someone who’s responsive, resilient, and adaptive to our needs? To Canada’s hardworking PSWs, those of us at Aetonix would like to say, thank you for all that you do.

Feature Image: Howe Kee Wong

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