A new high school program in London, Ont., is set to graduate its first crop of certified personal support workers (PSWs) in June, thanks to the nurse-turned-teacher who launched it last fall.
"The need is unbelievable now," said Sandra Briars, a Montcalm Secondary School teacher and registered nurse, of the PSW shortage in Canada. "With COVID and the stress of the job for nurses and PSWs, it's just been incredible."
Briars's first batch of students are wrapping up their first of two eight-week placements they'll need to complete the certification program.
"It's been a really good experience," said Fiona Newstead, 19, who chose to return for a fifth year of high school to complete the PSW program because going to college was too expensive.
Newstead is working at one of 52 homes with the organization PHSS in London, which provides residential care and day programs for people with complex medical and behavioural needs.
"I have formed these connections with my residents," she said. "I absolutely love it."
Staff shortage a real problem
The Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA) has sounded the alarm on the critical shortage of PSWs, as well as registered nurses and registered practical nurses. The OCSA represents over 220 agencies that support more than one million people in home and community-care services.
According to the association's member survey released in February that shows 2021 results, across their three top front-line staff — PSWs, registered nurses and registered practical nurses — 17.4 per cent of positions were vacant, nearly triple the 2020 survey results. In the cases of PSWs, 14.2 per cent of full-time positions were vacant, a 331 per cent increase over the survey findings two years ago.
"We are having a struggle with recruiting new people into our field," said Stacey Hutton, PHSS senior co-ordinator.
Of the organization's more than 50 residential homes in London, Hutton said each one was short one or two PSWs.
"People are working long shifts to ensure the people we serve have what they need.
"Staff are very connected to the people they work for and try hard to meet their needs," she said.
But the shortage is a real issue, said Hutton, and residents are feeling the effects.
"Burnout is extremely real especially with COVID compounding the issues."
That's why the organization has welcomed the eight students in Briars' program with open arms.
If the students successfully complete their placements and receive their PSW certification, they'll be offered a job, said Hutton. Each student is also expected to receive a stipend for their placements.
"Honestly I'm so pleased for them that they're going to be coming out of this with a job," said Briars. "I'm so proud they've done this for themselves"