In mid-September the Toronto Star uncovered some shocking facts about phony credentials that could be putting your personal safety at risk. Reporter Diana Zlomislic went undercover to attend an unregistered private career college, where she reports earning a bogus certificate and fabricated references as a Personal Safety Worker (PSW). These enabled her to obtain a job for which she was completely unqualified, working with some of society’s most vulnerable people—the sick and the elderly. To read the Torstar article, click here
Personal Support Workers, sometimes called “bedside nurses”, provide day-to-day assistance to patients in long-term care facilities, group homes and in private homes. Since there is no regulatory body for PSWs, they cannot be “certified” or “registered”. The institution they attend for training must be registered and approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. All reputable PSW programs share a similar curriculum requiring a minimum of 500 hours of training. This includes 225 hours of theory, 10 hours of evaluation and 265 hours on the job through a work placement—a far cry from the few weekends reporter Diana Zlomislic spent watching DVDs and being assured that fainting is good because it is a basic life sign.
Yet Zlomislic says she aced her first job interview with a well-regarded Yorkville health service agency. The facility offered her a conditional placement with a government-funded program until they checked her false references. But how could someone completely unqualified even pass an initial screening?
“They would have to be very, very smart”, says Amy Go, Executive Director of the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care in Markham. “But typically, at the interview stage, we would go through a range of practical scenarios that would be very tough for someone to answer unless they had actually done it… How do you dress someone who has been paralyzed by a stroke? How do you feed someone who has difficulty swallowing?” Fortunately for Yee Hong residents, the facility is known for its exacting standards. In order to ensure that its recruits get top training, they have formed a partnership with the York Region Board of Education. Ms. Go says that they will give priority to applicants having undergone training at Community Colleges, but that ultimately most institutions will also have to hire students from Private Career Colleges because demand still exceeds supply.
“You have to be very vigilant with your responsibilities to your staff and residents and those responsibilities don’t end after a reference check. After recruitment, our quality measurement standards include on-site monitoring, training and frequent evaluations during a probation period.” added Ms. Go.
Given the facility’s high standards for the quality of its training and monitoring, we enquired whether Yee Hong had placed any bids before the Community Care Access Centres to undertake the hiring of home care PSWs to staffing agencies. “No,” she replied, “we would lose money if we did that.”
Generally speaking, there is a pecking order amongst PSWs. The home care sector is recognized as having the lowest pay. Traditionally the CCACs had contracted out hiring to non-profits like the Victorian Order of Nurses . In 1997, the province of Ontario announced it would open up the bidding so as to make it more competitive. Bids are evaluated on both quality and cost-effectiveness, but proponents and critics disagree on the outcome. Proponents of competitive bidding say that the evaluation criteria place an emphasis on quality (rumoured to be worth 75% of the total evaluation). But critics charge that competitive bidding emphasizes cost containment and has greatly worsened working conditions for PSWs, with an obvious impact on patient care. PSWs are now constantly uprooted because of the frequent contract changes. For the most part, these workers have lost their benefits and are now paid between $11-$13 an hour, while travel time between clients is often unpaid.