Province to spend $115M to train thousands of PSWs

Ontario Premier Doug Ford addresses the media on long-term care, as Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton and Minister of Health Christine Elliott look on, May 26, 2020. Image provided by Premier of Ontario/YouTube

The Ontario government has announced a commitment to put 8,200 personal support workers (PSWs) on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle.

At Queens Park Wednesday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford presented a plan to provide $115-million in funding for the education and training of PSWs.

Ford called the plan the most ambitious in recent history, with the hope of having these workers ready by this fall.

“This is part of our government’s long-term care staffing strategy, one of the largest PSW recruitment and training drives ever in this country’s history.” said Ford. “This represents the biggest increase in PSW training capacity in a generation. Through the Accelerated PSW Training Program, we will be offering tuition-free training to 6,000 students. This program will allow them to complete their studies in six months instead of eight, getting additional help for the front lines faster.”

The six-month training program for those 6,000 students will consist of three months of coursework and experiential field learning, followed by three months of paid onsite training. All 24 of Ontario’s colleges will offer the program starting in April.

About 2,200 additional students nearing the end of their studies will receive a $2,000 tuition grant, plus a stipend to complete the hands-on clinical portion.

Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton said the plan is necessary to meet the promised four hours a day of direct care for long-term care residents.

“Modernizing long-term care requires innovative solutions and programs that allow us to recruit and train PSWs quickly so that they can begin their meaningful work caring for our loved ones,” said Fullerton.

Members of the Opposition were quick to critique the plan. Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca called it a case of “too little, too late”.

“Where was he when they needed him most?” asked Del Duca in a statement Wednesday. “While hiring PSWs is always welcome, where was this announcement last year? Quebec started recruiting thousands of new PSWs during the first wave while Doug Ford dragged his feet and let the conditions in nursing homes deteriorate to an all time low.”

NDP Deputy Leader and Long-Term Care Critic Sara Singh says her party has been pushing for more PSWs for some time, but if they are not paid properly for their work, they’ll find another line of work.

“Pay PSWs decently. Make their jobs permanent and full-time. Give PSWs paid sick days. And put enough staff on every shift so that they’re not run off their feet all the time,” said Singh. “If the government keeps refusing to do that, we’re going to keep seeing PSWs leave the profession faster than they’re being hired.”

Blackburn News has also reached out to the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA), which represents PSWs in the province, for comment.