By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
Last week Health Minister George Smitherman announced a $191 million cash infusion and stem to stern reform of Ontario's nursing homes.
That's good news for the men and women in long-term care in the province, and equally good news for the personal support workers (PSW) who care for them.
| Cindy Mcnairn
After all, nursing homes are a major employer of PSWs, and Smitherman's initiative can only improve their already enviable job prospects.
Many colleges, public and private, offer PSW training. It lasts 22 to 24 weeks full time, although some schools also offer part-time instruction.
Cindy McNairn, PSW program co-ordinator at George Brown College, says her full-time students spend 14 weeks in class and another seven in field placement.
And all of them, full or part time, she says, tend to come from three groups: those who had to leave school early; those who've been out of school for some time and use PSW training as a first step up; and immigrants for whom personal support work is an employment quick fix.
Amir Jaffer, the director of the Academy of Learning - Don Mills, says a number of his students have worked in the health care sector in some way, but to work in nursing homes they find they need a PSW certificate. Lots of Academy of Learning students are immigrants, too, and it is for that reason that this school, as well as George Brown and others insist on an English test for non-native speakers.
All colleges, whether public or private, ask for a high school diploma, although the suitability of mature students is assessed individually.
Class size and acceptance rates vary. At Durham College, for example, practical nursing and PSW program co-ordinator Jean Jackson says she would like to see about 35 to 40 students every September and February, although the average is closer to 20. At the Academy of Learning, Jaffer says the average is six or seven students a class. At all colleges, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of PSW students are women.
Full-time personal support worker training lasts between 22 and 24 weeks
PSW programs are offered in public and private colleges throughout the GTA
Job prospects are excellent but pay and benefits tend to be modest
A high school diploma is preferred, but mature students are assessed individually and an English test is usually required
Most PSW students are women
Public colleges' tuition and associated costs run from about $1,200 to $1,400 for the complete course. Jaffer directed questions about Academy of Learning PSW fees to head office in Richmond Hill, which hadn't responded by our press deadline.
The responsibilities of a PSW, who works under the supervision of a registered nurse or a registered practical nurse, can vary. It may include bathing, dressing and feeding geriatric patients in long-term care or in their own homes; helping them to remain mobile, collecting specimens for analysis, and providing emotional and social support. PSWs may also perform other tasks such as grocery shopping, light housekeeping and cooking.
"At George Brown we really try to promote the independence of the senior who's getting care," McNairn says. "We promote the caring of the PSWs and that they provide the best possible care."
Salaries and benefits for PSWs vary considerably, with non-profit homes and agencies generally paying more. Jackson says a recent Durham survey found that the average annual salary for an entry-level job in her region was $24,000. The same survey also showed the maximum salary was almost $31,000.
Although a PSW's pay won't make them rich, employment prospects for graduates could hardly be better. There's the increased funding coming from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, and the inexorable march of time: everyone is getting older and some are older than others.
"Employment is excellent," Jackson says. "In our area they are adding more and more long-term care, and as the baby boomers age it will only get better (for PSWs.)"
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