In Support Of Ontario’s Personal Support Workers

In the wake of Covid-19 and the awful results in long term care facilities (LTC) throughout the province, elder neglect has become a hot point in the public psyche.

Unfortunately, this sentiment has resulted in PSWs—Personal Support Workers—becoming common scapegoats. But is this fair or accurate?

In a word: NO.

While there is certainly no excuse for specific cases of elder abuse or neglect by a PSW, blaming the profession as a whole for what we’re seeing happen in LTC homes at the moment is equally inexcusable.

What Is A PSW?

I work with a lot of PSWs as part of my job, some who help my clients, and many of them as clients themselves.

A PSW is the first line of care for someone who has difficulty caring for themselves. That includes not only the elderly, but also those who are injured or very ill. Here’s a short list of the varied duties that a PSW does every day:

  • Helps the individual with their daily hygiene needs, including bathing, dressing, toileting; they are also important in managing feeding and mobility.
  • Cleans living areas, changes bedding and deals with soiled items.
  • Helps the individual to independently manage their medications and other assistive devices.
  • Is the first likely person to notice behavioural or health related changes that need to be reported upwards to a nurse or doctor.
  • Is a human contact for individuals who are often cut off from a lot of interaction with others.

This list, simple as it sounds, is very stressful. PSWs are typically dealing with people who aren’t at their best, physically and emotionally. Even a relatively happy elderly patient will require physical management, including assisting them into a wheelchair; bathing them, which requires strength and so on.

For many PSWs, the stress doesn’t stem solely from the rigours of the job. There are also the realities of the work:

  • Unrealistic or unreliable scheduling, which creates havoc for the worker’s own personal family life.
  • Demands made by family members of the person being cared for, often in very unpleasant ways.
  • Care facilities that are understaffed, with little in the way of additional training or support.
  • Minimum wage payment, “part time” scheduling to avoid providing PSWs with benefits, resulting in the worker often having to find jobs in multiple facilities to make ends meet.

The result for many PSWs is stress and burnout as they cannot manage this kind of work for long, plus their own family responsibilities. A

Add to all of this the fact that the job is physically demanding, a PSW who has an accident, whether in a car or at work, will have a hard time getting back to their job(s).

PSWs And Elder Neglect

Despite the many difficulties and strains in being a PSW, the people who undertake this kind of work do it because they care. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t: it’s too hard. So in the case of elder neglect, is it really the PSW who is to blame?

While there have been cases of specific abuse perpetrated by a PSW against one or more vulnerable elders, the reality is that the wholesale mismanagement of long term care facilities is more often than not the true cause of neglect.

An individual PSW can only do so much when they are forced to work with too many patients, for too little pay, and too few hours to sustain their own families. Instead, we should look elsewhere for the root causes of elder neglect in LTCs:

  • Making an essential health service ‘for profit’ is a dangerous paradigm. There is no good way to ensure that people receive the care they need when you are reporting to a board whose primary concern is the bottom line. That said, not-for-profit care facilities are not immune to issues of elder neglect, though in their case, it’s often due to a lack of funding rather than a desire to cut costs.
  • In a society where two incomes are necessary for most families, the more traditional model of elders being cared for by their own families is less culturally viable in Canada.
  • For families who do care for their own, there is also the stress of being in the ‘sandwich generation’: where individuals are caring for young children, at the same time as their ageing parents. It can be a major strain for families. Long term care facilities become a necessity for many families, and as our population ages, the pressure on this system will only become greater.

Bottom line? Press the pause button before you put blanket blame on the PSWs because the issue of caring for our elderly population is clearly bigger than that.

If you are a PSW, and you’re dealing with issues of stress, physical or psychological, here’s what I’d like you to know about long term disability:

  • PTSD and stress are legitimate reasons for leveraging disability benefits. In the post COVID-19 era, particularly for those like PSWs who have been on the front line of caring for our elderly, this will be relevant. If you have coverage through your place of employment, exemptions for pandemics will not have been written into the policies, so it’s still an option for you to consider, when you are simply unable to cope any longer.
  • Recognizing that any physical injury makes the work of being a PSW very difficult, long term disability benefits can enable you to get the care that YOU need, with an aim to one day resuming your duties.
  • The key to a successful LTD claim is making it clear that you have indeed tried to work / return to work but that you weren’t able to function effectively. Your company’s insurer will be looking to see if that effort was made before settling a claim.
  • As with all claims against an insurance policy, it’s a good idea to make sure you have all your medical documentation lined up and orderly: this is the best way to guarantee a positive outcome.

As always, checking in with a personal injury lawyer with specific expertise in dealing with long term disability claims is the best way to start off your claim on the right foot.


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