Crystal clear

Personal support workers are unsung heroes

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

A lot of people have probably heard the term personal support worker (PSW) but may not know what that job entails or how important these caregivers are.

People working in this career play a critical role in the lives of people who live with disabilities or chronic illnesses, as well as elderly people. A PSW may work in care facilities, hospitals, community care homes, private homes and long-term care homes. These individuals provide many services to the people they care for based on their specific conditions and needs. The overall wellness of their patients and their day-to-day function is the most important aspect of the job.

The personal support worker occupation is not part of the Regulated Health Professions Act in Manitoba or elsewhere in Canada and is therefore a non-regulated profession. This means no prior trainings or qualifications are needed to become a PSW. An attempt on regulation was made by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in 2005. However, the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC) recommended not to regulate this profession due to the complex nature of work carried out and the wide range of settings where they work.

PSWs may also be referred to as personal attendants, health care aides, home supporters, visiting homemakers, respite care workers and supportive care assistants.

So what exactly do PSWs do? They help people with daily living activities like shopping, meal prep, feeding, hygiene, housework and dressing, as well as other duties.

Other important responsibilities PSWs have include medical care, such as medication prep/administration; therapies, such as chest physio or stretches; dressing changes; skin checks and accompanying people to appointments. PSWs’ duties are versatile, depending on the employer, the work setting and the needs of each client.

More importantly though, PSWs provide people with a sense of dignity, independence, companionship and compassion.

A job in this career can be very fulfilling for people who want to help others. Not only do support workers help elderly folks and those living with disabilities and chronic illness, but they also help the families of the people they work with immensely.

In Canada, where the population of people above 65 years old has increased significantly (and most family members work outside the home), it is often a challenge for people to provide full-time care to an elderly or ill family member. More and more families are now looking for PSWs to provide home-based health care.

No one wants to be in a hospital. Being at home with family and friends is often a much better and more comforting option – something PSWs make possible.

PSWs have proven to be a vital part of the medical system and community. I can say this from personal experience, as I have four on my team to care for me. As a person who hires PSWs through an independent living program, I conduct interviews to find people, and I’m responsible for all of their training. This allows me to live at home comfortably and maintain my independence.

With that being said, it can be a challenge finding people who want a career like this. Many people often think they need a degree to apply for the job, so they don’t. Or the thought of caring for someone who is ill intimidates them. PSWs are needed, because chronic illness and disability can happen to anyone at any time, and aging is inevitable. So if anyone is interested in doing something like this, go for it. It’s a very rewarding experience.

Crystal is a 30-year-old woman living with a progressive, terminal illness. However, she lives her life to the fullest by getting several tattoos, writing her blog on Facebook, modelling, advocating for various causes and sporting a rocker-girl style.

Published in Volume 74, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 16, 2020)

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