Free tuition, pay raises and online learning offered to local residents who want to be PSWs
Two Bobcaygeon long-term care homes and one Lindsay retirement home are a few of the local connections involved in a province-wide quest to boost numbers of personal support workers.
The Ontario government is funding a one-year private college program for PSWs, allowing people to take the course for free, from paid tuition to textbooks.
The 27-week course is through Medix College, in Scarborough, but most of the program will be online and will benefit Kawartha Lakes residents who are looking to become PSWs.
Mike Parker, business development manager at Medix, said the fund was created last year. But one of the problems that arose was the program was not online but in-person.
“We saw there was greater need in rural areas outside the GTA and the program was not being implemented there,” said Parker. The long commute to Scarborough for in-person classes was a barrier to people in rural areas.
The updated program now has 17 of its 27 weeks online. Weeks 18 and 19 still require some in-person learning, including a Sunday-Wednesday “boot camp” but overall the bulk of the school year is online.
Graham Bashford, a local PSW, is working with the college to find more local people interested in applying. From 2012 to 2020 he was the founder and owner of Castle Keep Retirement, a home-care business in Lindsay that provided PSW and other services. He also consulted with local seniors and their families about navigating through the aging process.
Bashford said another flaw in the program last year was a requirement that students do an unpaid externship of 40 hours a week for eight weeks at a long-term care home. He said potential PSWs were deterred because they could not afford eight weeks off work, so this year those eight weeks are instead to be paid placements.
The hourly wage a student receives, said Parker, will depend on where their placement is.
The program has partnered with three local homes for give student externships: Adelaide Place in Lindsay, and Pinecrest and Case Manor, both in Bobcaygeon.
Bashford said it is not a guarantee but is very likely that most students of the program will be able to find a job post-graduation right out of the gate, “as there is a high demand right now.”
Adrienne West, executive director of Adelaide Place, said the pandemic has seen unprecedented challenges related to staffing in all areas, and the need for PSWs across the province is an urgent challenge.
“Providing the placement for the program, not only do we get a chance to help increase the number of needed PSWs in this area,” said West, “but in the process, they get to experience what it’s like to be part of Team Adelaide too.”
Shabana Saiyed is a former student of the program from the GTA and said that while anyone who is serious about a career as a PSW can do the program, it is not a breeze.
“Since it is an accelerated program,” said Saiyed, “there is a lot of material to be covered and one would need to be serious about the course. You will use everything you learned, so it’s important one is dedicated to learning and serving the elderly and sick.”
Parker agreed with Saiyed about the need for students to be devoted to helping people. He said last year the program succeeded in attracting a lot of people who jumped into the program because it was free, but when they got to their placement, “they went ‘whoa’ and backed out.” They were not ready for the commitment it involved.
The high demand for PSWs is a result of several challenges in the role, Bashford said: low pay, shift work schedules, a lot of responsibility placed on PSWs, and the emotions involved in bonding with people who may pass away. However, the average hourly wage for PSWs has increased in the last five years, according to Bashford, from $15 to $23.
The hope, says Bashford, is that the number of PSWs will increase when all of these bonuses are factored in, from better wages, to free tuition, and lots of flexibility.
The new diploma program through Medix has the potential to lead to further opportunities in medical fields. There are 14 spots open for Kawartha Lakes residents in the program. Lindsay’s Graham Bashford is working with Medix’s Mike Parker to persuade the college to add more.
Prospective students must be enrolled in the program by September to qualify for the funding. In other parts of Ontario, the program has already begun. Some of the start dates locally are still being finalized.
Parker said applicants wanting to work in Lindsay will be starting either on Aug. 8 or 22, while those looking to work in Bobcaygeon will start on Sept. 26. Requirements are an Ontario high school diploma or passing an online test administered by the college, proof of triple COVID-19 vaccination, a Vulnerable Sector Screening Criminal Reference Check and a a short essay on why the candidate wants to do the program.
To get the funding, prospective students apply through the OSAP portal with the same kind of documentation as for OSAP. There are no restrictions, Parker said, even if someone has debt or outstanding loans.