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First graduates of new PSW course ready to make it real

First graduates of new PSW course ready to make it real
Cathy Holland, Patricia Riddell, Carla Schott, and Dianne Tone are all encouraged by the first class of PSW students in Elmira and are looking forward to a new class this spring, which is still accepting students.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Cathy Holland, Patricia Riddell, Carla Schott, and Dianne Tone are all encouraged by the first class of PSW students in Elmira and are looking forward to a new class this spring, which is still accepting students. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
As the first Elmira-based personal support worker program through the St. Louis Adult Learning and Continuing Education Centre is set to wrap up this spring, they’re already preparing to welcome in their next round of students.

They need 18 people to take the PSW course this time around. The current class started with 17 signed up and 11 ultimately taking the course, with two dropping out due to health concerns. Nine students are expected to graduate from the program this spring.

They just finished up their 180 practicum hours and have to do 120 hours in a different setting, to better prepare them for the various workplaces they could be hired into, before graduating.

“What we’re hoping and planning now is to start another Elmira class in the same Arc Industries building on the fourth of April. We have eight signed up. We have two more intake sessions coming up to recruit to get up to our 18,” said St. Louis PSW instructor Patricia Riddell.

Current PSW student Carla Schott says she felt well equipped going into the long-term care facility, Elmira’s Barnswallow Place Care Community, for her practicum.

“It really prepares you coming into this environment,” Schott said.

The program runs part-time four nights a week in the evening at the Arc Industries building on Church Street. The students did their course work there and then they spent two months in Kitchener learning at St. Louis’ labs, where they’re taught things like how to do a proper lift. They also get lifted so they know what that feels like.

After learning on the mannequins and doing a lift on a real person, Schott says with a laugh, “People are much easier than mannequins.”

For Schott, the PSW program was something she’d been looking to do for awhile.

“I was actually going to do it about seven years ago, but then my children started getting married and then having babies so it kind of got put on the back burner and always wanted to do it, but had a good job, I was very happy working where I was working. The sign was there, I looked at it and thought if I don’t do it now then I might never do it,” Schott said.

She says at 56, a career change was no problem.

Students have to be at least 19 to enroll in the PSW program, but there’s no age maximum, so long as you’re healthy and have a desire to work with people.

Cathy Holland, executive director of Barnswallow Place Care Community, says it’s nice to be able to offer the program in Elmira for people who live in smaller areas outside of Elmira, so the travel time isn’t so bad. And they definitely see the benefit in hosting students at their facility.

“It’s good for us as well being able to see people work and who works well within your home,” Holland said.

While they can’t hire the students until they’ve successfully completed the program, the plan is to hire some of the graduates in the future.

“The expectation and the hope is that we’ll be hiring from this group,” said Dianne Tone, RN, director of care at Barnswallow Place.

And there are plenty of options for PSW grads including workplaces like nursing homes, group homes, hospitals, and even in schools. One former PSW at Barnswallow Place was hired for the cardiac unit at a local hospital.

She says the hands on experience the students have had in Elmira helps them get a real picture of what the job is and what is expected of them.

“Going to nursing school, which is a little different than PSW, you start out in your classroom, you spend a lot of time in your classroom, you get one patient the first semester. It takes a long time to graduate into having more people to care for. It is a different level of care with different levels of expectation, but you don’t work necessarily with a nurse until you get to your final stages. It gives the new PSWs the opportunity to really get a feel for what the full expectations of the position are,” Tone said.

It’s benefited them too by having extra hands on the floor. She notes the staff have really appreciated having that as well, and it gives them a bit of a boost to their spirit to think that they’re teaching new grads to understand what they do, how they do it, why it’s important, and how to do it better.

“I think the big thing is when you do come into a home and you’re dealing with residents you realize what the job is all about and the expectations and where you’re going to be at when you get out in the workplace. You’re not going to have three people or three mannequins. You’re going to get off and running. It gets you ready for what you’re going to need to do,” said Holland.

Schott says as students you can read all about the different things to look for in a patient, but it’s a different story to see it in person and put your skills to use.

As for the PSW program, Riddell says it’s becoming more multifaceted each year. PSWs are now taught ethics, when they used to just learn how to bathe, feed, and keep someone clean and happy. While there’s nothing wrong with that, she says it’s becoming more important to take into account individuality with the diversity of Canadians.

“We have so many people from other countries. We’ve had to address that. There are certain ways you don’t approach someone from another country. That was added to the program,” Riddell said.

They also teach anatomy and physiology and combine it with ongoing conditions. So when the student is working with someone they’re actually capable of assessment. They know how to look for changes in skin colour, the beginning of possible skin breakdown, possible liver issues by the look of someone’s sclera in their eyes.

“To me the assessment skill is amazing. We teach cognitive and mental health and we also teach gentle persuasive approach. They’ve learned a way to release someone who’s got a grip on them or is pulling their hair, but done in a gentle way,” Riddell said.

Students take a 24-hour course in the fundamentals of palliative care, so learning how to give care to someone who is terminal. They learn what protective equipment to wear when in contact with certain infections.

“We didn’t use to teach all of this. We just taught them to look after a person, mind and body, not in an unkind, unknowing way, but there’s so much more that’s been added,” Riddell said.

For those interested in the PSW program, there are two more intake sessions to learn about it and sign up. The first is Feb. 29 and the second is Mar. 22. Both are at 6 p.m. at Arc Industries at 146 Church St. W. in Elmira.

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