PSW shortage 'a tremendous burden' that leaves some in Windsor-Essex without reliable home care

·4 min read
Johnna Armstrong says she wants consistent, reliable care that will help her get out of a wheelchair and back to using a walker. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Johnna Armstrong says she wants consistent, reliable care that will help her get out of a wheelchair and back to using a walker. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

When Johnna Armstrong's home-care appointments are missed, her husband Donevan has to fill in as caregiver.

But in the last year, Armstrong's cerebral palsy and other medical issues have left her unable to walk. She needs help getting into her wheelchair, getting dressed and going to the bathroom. Donevan, 65, is unable to help her with all of that due to his back injuries.

The Windsor, Ont., couple said the shortage of personal support workers (PSW) is harming Armstrong's rehabilitation and forcing them to place her in a home — a problem impacting others in Windsor-Essex.

"The health care just isn't there," Johnna said. "I need certain things and I can't get it ... and it just makes everything worse because they don't show up when they're supposed to ... it could cost me getting better."

Why would you take away visits that she needs? - Johnna Armstrong's husband Donevan

Based on doctor's orders, Armstrong is recommended four PSW visits a day — ones that include personal care and rehabilitation, her husband said.

Yet, at least half of her appointments get missed, Donevan added.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

"It's very tiring and a tremendous burden wondering every single time whether people are going to show up,"
he said, adding this isn't the first time they've had this sort of experience.

He said that recently, it has improved, but likely because he's gone to upper management a number of times to complain.

The services are publicly provided by Ontario Health's Home and Community Care Erie St. Clair, formerly the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

We encourage patients to bring their concerns forward so we can address them and find solutions together in a timely manner. - Home and Community Care Services Erie St. Clair

In an emailed statement, Home and Community Care Services Erie St. Clair told CBC News, "We are working closely with our partners to manage capacity pressures and with our patients to ensure they fully utilize the resources at their disposal in order to obtain the most clinically safe and appropriate care.

"We encourage patients to bring their concerns forward so we can address them and find solutions together in a timely manner."

Donovan said that when he's reached out to Home and Community Care Services with his concerns, they've told him if he scheduled fewer appointments — like three a day — there might be a better chance of them getting filled.

"Why would you take away visits that she needs, that have been ordered by a doctor?" he said.

Feeling forced to go into a home

Arla Blakney of Woodslee is only getting three of her five required visits, and the timings are always off. On occasion, she sits in bed until 11 a.m. or goes without her diaper being changed for hours.

Arla's health has been declining over the years. In June, she came home from a five-month hospital stay.

Her husband, David Blakney, said that it not only impacts Arla's health care, but makes it difficult for him to run errands.

"It impacts the day in that it's very difficult to plan anything, I like to attempt to live a life through all of this stuff as well," he said, adding a consistent and reliable schedule is all he's asking for.

"I do most of the calling and say, 'Is anybody coming?'"

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

David says that when he does call and email Home and Community Care Services, he's told his only other option is to pay for private services.

"I don't need to support what they should be already doing."

Even then, one private company told CBC News it is also struggling to find workers.

"A definite shortage. We are seeing lower-quality caregivers that are coming out, we are seeing no-shows to interviews, we are having to put [patients] on waiting lists due to this," said Adam Budrewicz, owner of Comfort Keepers Home Care.

Training program in the works

Chatham-Kent Employment and Social Services has been working with SE College of Heath on a personal support worker training program to recruit more workers.

The program, done in partnership with the City of Windsor and Lambton County, offers free training and allows candidates to get paid.

But in the meantime, both David and Donevan told CBC News the lack of proper care makes them feel as though they are being forced to put their loved ones into a home — something Johnna and Arla don't want.

"[Johnna] enjoys being here, we enjoy each other's company, she likes the cat and it's home," Donevan said.

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