Barbara A. M. Fletcher is a long-time professional Homecare Personal Support Worker, union steward and certified member and co-chair of a joint health and safety committee.
As a PSW (Personal Support Worker) in home care, I am especially good at what I do. My purpose is to keep people out of hospitals and long-term care facilities (LTCs); it is better mentally and physically for people to remain in their homes for as long as they can.
I come to know them … their wants, needs, habits and life stories. I listen to their joys and sorrows. I laugh with them and hold them when they cry. I have been present at their deaths and supported their families.
I monitor their health and well-being, sound the alarm when I must or act quickly in a crisis.
To be the best PSW I can be, I pay for my own first-aid training as well as any other relevant courses that serve to increase my knowledge. I do this on my own, unpaid time (health and safety training excepted). Anything substantial comes at a cost for which I am not recompensed … difficult, since I’m poorly paid.
We have all heard or read of the burdens on PSW in the front lines at LTC facilities but little has been written about PSWs in homecare. Working in an LTC home pays better and it’s easier on the vehicle: drive to the facility, do the eight hours and go home … there are no extra expenses from driving over vast areas, as I do.
The hours were good once. Four years ago, I finally qualified to purchase a house, a long-time dream! It wasn’t expensive and it needs work but it’s home, be it ever so crumbled. Unlike LTC, home care is feast or famine: the hours come and go. I eventually needed to take on a second job to increase my income.
Then came the day the pandemic was declared: March 11, 2020. Lucky ones were able to work from home; unlucky were laid off or lost their jobs entirely.
PSWs who need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet were told we had to give up our second jobs to limit the risk of cross-contamination. My hours dropped further as patients went off service, afraid the virus might be brought to them through us.
I pick up hours when others are unable to work (childcare issues, health issues, vacations) but it’s not enough; vacations don’t last forever. Things were dire until “The Pandemic Pay” came and seemed to offer a lifeline. But it was delayed and there were many who did not qualify but should have. Of those who did qualify, some received only part of it because of the criteria.
I had a front tooth break in December (it had a root canal years ago, so no nerve, no pain … just a gap-toothed smile); the rest of it needs to be surgically removed and replaced but as yet I haven’t been able to afford the procedure. I didn’t qualify for the help offered.
I’ve worked long and hard for this house and I don’t want to lose it. Seeing no other option in the moment, I made the painful decision to defer my mortgage for six months. That buys me time until I can attempt to refinance in January. If the bank won’t allow it, I’m done for.
In late summer, I hoped to regain some hours as patients who went off service eventually returned but now the second wave is upon us and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon.
In home care, we never know what we may be walking into: violence, unsafe structures, guns, drugs or communicable diseases.
That last one came home to roost this past week when I came down with a viral illness, beginning in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Sore throat, cough, congestion, runny nose, intermittent headache, tiredness. It isn’t COVID-19 (I tested negative), but it COULD have been; another potentially deadly hazard.
My employer requested a note; it stated I wasn’t to return to work until symptoms have subsided. As a result, I lost four days of my already low pay because I have no paid sick days.
We have been given a temporary $3/hr raise that, by the way, not all of us will get. The $5,000 bonus for 2,000 new graduates of PSW programs is designed to entice them to commit to working for six months and prevent the attrition rate between graduation and PSW work.
But what about the rest of us and what happens when the temporary pay raise expires?
Please remember that:
We keep your loved ones safely in their own homes;
We keep your loved ones out of hospitals and LTC facilities;
We have thrown ourselves into the line of fire since the beginning of the pandemic, putting your loved ones’ health and well-being above our own.