Shining a positive light on Personal Support Workers

As I sit here and write this, it’s Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. I figured that it would be the perfect time for me to discuss one of the things that I’m very thankful for. This week, I’ll be talking about Personal Support Workers. The short form, and the term that I find is used more commonly, is PSW.

Recently, there’s been frequent mentions of PSW in the news. Some good, some bad. Today, I’m choosing to focus on the positive. Partly because they’ve played such a big role in my life, as well as for many of my friends. The other part of my reason is because frankly, there’s way too much negativity going on right now, so I’ll do my best not to add to it.

Let’s start with the basics.

At the simplest form, a PSW assists a wide variety of people. This could include the elderly, a person with an injury, illness, and people with disabilities. PSW often assists with cooking, household cleaning, showers/bathing, laundry etc. In my case though, a PSW assists me with pretty much everything, including things associated with my breathing.

In most cases, a person with a disability (PWD) would only need help from a PSW for a few minutes, or a few hours, and in some cases, a few days a week. It all depends on the PWD’s needs, and the type of funding that’s been arranged.

I could go on about different funding, but this conversation would begin to sound less positive. Perhaps that will be a topic for another day.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have 24-hour care. A majority of the 24 hours is covered by PSW. I consider myself to be one of the fortunate ones. All of my PWD are familiar with me, and they’re aware of my needs, which is very important, and saves a lot of time. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.

Often, I hear stories from friends where a PSW shows up for the first time, and has no idea what to do, including common tasks like cleaning, or cooking. I’ve had similar situations like that, which can be downright dangerous due to the fact that I’m on a ventilator.

There are drawbacks when it comes to having 24-hour care. For example, a lack of privacy. The only real privacy that I get for any real length of time is when I’m in bed sleeping. Lack of privacy has also been another issue when it comes to dating, or anything related to that.

For me, each of my PWD is with me for eight hours at a time, which can be challenging as you may imagine. If one of us, or both of us are in a bad mood for whatever reason, eight hours can quickly feel like eight days. It’s important to remember that both PSW & PWD are human. There always needs to be a certain level of respect, trust, compassion, patience, and understanding towards each other. To be honest, it took me a very long for me to figure that out, and sometimes I do forget, especially if I’m having a bad day, or my mental health isn’t ok that day.

On a side note, mental health issues are a very important topic to me, and quite often plays a role when it comes to interacting with PSW, especially for long periods of time. That can be said for both the PSW and PWD. In my experience, the best thing to do is try to give each other space when you can, and remember that we’re all trying to do our best given the circumstances.

In my opinion, personal support workers are extremely underappreciated, at least when it comes to how much they get paid. When I think about everything that they do for me, and for several of my friends, ESPECIALLY during a pandemic, they deserve to be getting paid a lot more. Low wages is also a reason for a severe shortage of PSW.

For many people with disabilities, having personal support workers allows us to be independent, and allows us an opportunity to live our lives in a similar way as everyone else.

I just want to say a sincere and heartfelt thank you to all of my PSW both past and present. I moved into my own place in 1994, which is over 26 years ago. It’s pretty safe to say that I’ve had hundreds, maybe thousands of PSW helping me out.

I’m truly thankful for having all of them. Without you, I’d probably be living in a long term care hospital, or group home. There’s also been many times where a PSW has saved my life.

. . . And for that, I will always be grateful.

Thank you