For one personal support worker at a nursing home in Norfolk County, Ontario, every day is a blur. There should be at least six PSW workers on each floor where you work, but on many days, there are only three or four.
“We are always understaffed… and that means residents are not getting the proper care they deserve,” said the worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. “You rush to get her for breakfast, lunch… You’re too busy and you’re on your feet all day. By the end of the day, I have nothing left.
“It’s heartbreaking because [like] your family, and you would never want to go home and do it with your family.”
PSW workers are overwhelmed by intense physical labor in understaffed units — a problem that began long before the pandemic but has been exacerbated by its demands, say two local PSW workers who spoke to CBC Hamilton.
It’s a problem that has serious consequences for the people who care for them and the workers themselves, says Vivian Stamatopoulos, an advocate and long-term care researcher who teaches at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa.
“There has been neglect in this system for decades and it is getting progressively worse,” she said, noting the 13 PSW deaths in Ontario during the pandemic. Who wants to work in a position you can’t win?
“These workers went through hell during the first and second waves.” Then many of them said, “To hell, I work at Starbucks.”
No luck complaining to management
Norfolk PSW, which operates in a publicly owned facility, says it has expressed concerns about the work environment to management, with no luck.
“If we have a complaint about something, we will always be taken to the next person,” she said. “We don’t have the support we need from our nursing staff, from management, we don’t have the support we deserve… It’s almost the norm now that you know when you get in, it will be [awful]. You shouldn’t feel this way.”
At the age of 39, she said that the stress on her body from doing more than her share of the work takes a toll on the psychological and emotional stress she deals with on a daily basis.
“You constantly bend and roll and lift and push heavy wheelchairs,” she said, adding, “It seems like a lot of people around the age of 10 are changing their careers.”
PSW workers in hospitals also face burnout
Jane Cuthbert, a PSW specialist at Brantford General Hospital, said colleagues in the hospital system are feeling the pressure of low staffing levels.
“The fatigue is huge,” she said. “We have already started [before COVID] with a shortage of staff.
In the middle of a July day when she spoke with CBC Hamilton, Cuthbert had just finished working weekend shifts as her team was short of two employees.
“You start with the bare minimum, and as soon as you have a sick call, you empty the water,” she said, noting that for the night on her land, there is only one PSW in shift for 25 rehabilitation patients. “Recently, it has been unruly at night… our facilities have started hiring clinical assistants, PSW students and nursing students who are not yet certified…
LTC residents receive about two and a half hours of care per day
Because of chronic staffing shortages, Ontario long-term care residents get an average of 2.5 hours of help per day, while experts in the field recommend five to seven hours, Stamatopoulos said. The Ontario government has promised to implement a four-hour day care standard over several years, but Stamatopoulos says it must happen immediately in order to force homes to hire more people.
As a society, you are always “just” PSW. A lot of people in my family have told me this many times in the past two weeks. It is disrespectful.– Jane Cuthbert
a A regional study was released last summer It reported that 50 percent of private sector workers leave health care within five years, and 43 percent leave long-term care due to burnout from “short-term work”.
Recently launched the province Initiative to train up to 8,200 new PSW workersBut Stamatopoulos said they were unlikely to stay in the job for long without further systemic changes.
Cuthbert was not surprised people were leaving, and said part of the reason was the lack of respect for the work that PSWs do, both in some workplaces and in society as a whole.
We are health care cockroaches
“We are healthcare cockroaches…the mother of ants, or even aphids,” she said. “We are seen as uneducated, sometimes lazy…very undesirable and not open to ideas or science.
“As a society, you’re always ‘just’ PSW. I’ve had a lot of family members tell me that a few times in the past two weeks. It’s disrespectful.”
Both Cuthbert and the Norfolk worker say they see disrespect in recent public discussions about whether housemaids should be forced to vaccinate. Both have been vaccinated themselves, but said many peers feel strongly that vaccination is a personal choice, and could take compulsory vaccination as the last straw for them to exit the industry.
“We didn’t get paid completely well,” Cuthbert says. “The amount of risk involved in our work is relatively high. I feel it is violating our rights because they are now making a choice.”
Vaccines are still a controversial topic among PSWs
It can be difficult to talk about it at work, said the Norfolk worker, who believes less than half of her colleagues have received the vaccination.
“We try not to talk about it too much because it keeps everyone busy,” she said. “Some say it’s their personal choice. They don’t get the flu shot, so why do they get it? Others say it came too fast and they don’t trust it. Others don’t want it because they don’t want it… If I didn’t work where I work, I probably wouldn’t have received Vaccination “.
At the regional level, vaccination rates among PSWs have seen a significant increase in recent weeks. As of Monday, 93 percent of long-term care home employees received their first dose, and about 88 percent got two doses, according to the Department of Long-Term Care. On May 31, only 66 percent had received two doses, while 89 percent had received one.
Residual indecision and prolonged fatigue may be related, said Ian Da Silva, director of operations for the Ontario PSW.
“You’re talking about a very stressful workforce that might have a few minutes a day to watch the news,” he said. “Where do they get their information from?”