Today marks Personal Support Worker Day across Ontario, a day to pay tribute to thousands of workers in settings such as hospitals, long-term care homes, community-based health providers or in their client’s homes.
While there have been notable improvements in compensation paid to PSWs in recent years, the reality for many, especially non-unionized workers in the home care sector, is that their occupation remains low-paying and with few, if any, benefits.
“Society owes a special gratitude to personal support workers,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “They perform support work for some of our most vulnerable and frail persons and, regrettably, they don’t get the attention – nor the compensation – they rightfully deserve.”
Ontario has an estimated 100,000 PSWs, of which about one-third have benefited from a $1.50-per hour wage increase mandated by the provincial government in 2014. That amount is supposed to reach a $4.00-per hour by April 1, 2016, bringing the average PSW hourly wage to $16.50.
PSWs are critical to Ontario’s plans to deliver care closer to home. They often work under the supervision and clinic plan developed by a licensed health professional. They develop a knowledge and skill level that includes basic principles of holistic health care and social service training. PSWs typically work with a multi-disciplinary health team and must align their services to fit a client’s care plan.
Even so, in home care, where continuity of care is critically important, PSWs have been turning over at a rate of 60 per cent per year – or the entire agency workforce typically in less than two years. That speaks to the wide disparity between their skill level and the traditional low wages experienced by the sector and it does little to enhance a patient’s level of care.
“There are still serious shortcomings that must be addressed,” said Thomas. “It’s inexcusable that those to whom we entrust the care, assistance and support for some of our most vulnerable citizens should still be treated so shabbily. The patients for whom they provide badly-needed services deserve better.”