The heroic work of personal support workers

Contributed By Kathy Flaxman. Jaime Robles has been tested twice for COVID-19: results negative.

 
He is a true hero, working in the ICU of a major Toronto Hospital where his day includes helping nurses change patients’ positions, changing diapers and cleaning dirty bums every time a patient has a BM, moving patients in and out of bed or preparing them for the “cold” room if their struggles have ended. Jaime is a personal support worker (PSW).

 
The health care workers at the bottom of the pile really carry the weight of the system in a lot of cases and in a lot of ways. In long term care the PSW’s have most of the work to do with very few doctors involved and not many nurses. The PSW’s are the first to see that wounds, the dreaded bed sores, are opening up. They feed the patients, dress them and keep them clean. Ideally, they are like friends who know them, who ask about their families and remember how they like to be washed and what their favourite foods are. When they are frail, they help them sit up in their wheelchairs and hold the spoon at just the right angle to help the food go down and not cause choking.

 
The Ontario Ministry of Health estimates there are 90,000 people working in the field. They can start at about $16 an hour and may make the princely sum of $20, perhaps a few dollars more.

 
Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, PSW’s are hard to come by and this is making things tough for the system. Can you blame them for opting to stay home rather than risk their health and the health of their families? Not only is the work physically tough, some patients and families are abusive.

 
Jaime is an example of a PSW who’s doing OK. He’s working in the intensive care unit at North York General where he has regular hours and an allowance in lieu of benefits. Here, his skilled careful work is respected. He works about 30 hours a week.

 
Until recently, to make ends meet, he also worked at a long-term-care home. He told me that in LTC he would have at least 10 patients and be expected to get them up, washed (dirty bums and all) dressed and ready for breakfast in as little as an hour and he was always hearing from above that he was too slow.

 
Jaime came to Canada in 2005 from Mexico, wanting to explore things here and perhaps make a better life for himself. “I always wanted to be a nurse,” he says. “Being a PSW gave me a chance to see if nursing was a good career for me, and try it out. This was one of the best choices I made in my life.”

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