During the first year of the pandemic in Ontario, retirement and long-term care homes were disproportionately affected and made up for the majority of cases and outbreaks. The virus’s impacts on the settings displayed many systemic issues of the care system within the province, including understaffing.
Facing criticism, the province has proposed a number of changes, including funding to train and hire more frontline staff for such facilities. In that vein, the province last week announced it’s providing $5 million to create a micro-credential program for personal support workers (PSW) at Conestoga College.
John Tibbits, president of Conestoga College, says the new program is a way to combat a longstanding personnel shortage in the sector.
“We greatly appreciate the province’s investment in this important initiative. The Long-term Care Home Assistant program will address the urgent need for trained staff in LTC home across Ontario, while providing opportunities for laid-off workers to gain skills that will allow them to return to the workforce and make positive contribution to the health and well-being of their community.”
Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris says that the program will help nearly 500 people work towards a micro-credential and future employment.
“This would be something that will be used to build upon skills that these people may already have, or that they may not have, allowing them to then successfully – once they’ve completed the program – work doing things like developing healthy housekeeping skills, dining room service techniques, food safety certification, and things like that. They can start to begin either working towards or becoming a full-fledged PSW or just work in a long-term care home, using the skills that they’ve developed,” said Harris.
The province has committed the funding over two years for the project, which is being led by the school’s Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.
“The majority of the academic portion of this is going to be done online, which is great. You can really take this from anywhere – you don’t necessarily have to be in a city or town where there’s a large-scale college,” Harris added.
Pointing to Elmira as the example, Harris said being able to take the course from home with the exception of in-person practical work would be an advantage for many.
“There’s a lot on the table right now when it comes to how we can encourage more people to get into becoming a PSW and some of the other fields that are similar. I know in a conversation that I had recently with President Tibbits, he actually said that they were oversubscribed for their PSW training programs, which is great, because it means there’s a lot of people that are interested in taking part in a pretty rewarding career.”
Such efforts to promote PSW work is in the vein of program launched in Elmira five years ago by St. Louis Adult Learning and Continuing Education Centre in partnership with Elmira District Community Living to train PSWs in Elmira. The presence of both EDCL homes and a number of long-term care centres made Elmira the choice for that project.
More of that kind of thing is needed to train workers for those jobs, said Harris.
“We need to look at some other ways that we can get people into the system and moving through the education process. I think there will be an opportunity for some sort of the alternative education providers to be able to help with this – I know that there’s been some investment already into some of the private career colleges to help them get moving with their PSW training programs. And I’m sure that there’s conversations happening with some of the adult learning facilities like St. Louis and some of the others that we have around the province when it comes to trying to develop some programming for them as well.”