Being a healthcare worker in today's world takes someone who is brave, courageous and strong. Someone who strives to care for their patients the way that they would care for their own family. Someone that fights for change to make for better work environments for others and someone that isn't afraid to stand up for what's right and let their voice be heard.
We were honoured to have Taylor Booroff as this week's special guest on the Caring Support podcast. Taylor is a personal support worker that began her career as a PSW at the young age of 19. She fought hard through COVID and is now using her voice to stand up and fight for changes that are so desperately needed not only in the PSW profession but in healthcare in general. Come along with us as we listen to Taylor's story.
My name is Taylor and I'm the spokesperson for the Ontario PSW Association and I'm a PSW of almost seven years now. I started quite young, when I was 19, and have worked in various avenues in my field such as: in the community, in long-term care and private care, the hospital, and the ICU. I've gotten a good look at everything and I really like my career, but I really want to be able to advocate for it now and look to other avenues beyond bedside.
It's been really cool having this opportunity with the Ontario PSW Association and with people like yourself to use my voice now instead of just being bedside. I'm really thrilled to be here, a lot of us have worked hard through COVID and gained a lot of experience, myself too, so I'm really excited to share all of that with all of you.
I feel like it’s rare in our field to start when you're a teenager. A lot of people come back as a second career or just later in their lives. What I really wanted to do at the time, and it sounds cliche and I think a lot of you can relate to this, is I wanted to help people and I don't think I really fully understood what that encompassed in the PSW field.
Once I started into my clinical placements and all this other stuff, I just realized how important the job is, how meaningful it is, and how it is so integral to our system. I feel like it is often overlooked and it's a lot of hard work, physical work, sad work, and emotional, but it is the most fulfilling thing.
I think for me to get into this field, what has kept me here and what drives me here is helping people, but also seeing the impact that it makes on people long term. It's just so rewarding, I love it so much!
I think that varies in different sections of our field, but I think if you were to follow me around, you would see a lot of bed baths, you would see a lot of showers, you would see a lot of, changing incontinence products and feeding people. You would see us helping them with their activities of daily living. It varies from field to field, but that's the general idea of it.
In some of our settings, as we all know, we have a lot of flaws in our system right now. If you're working in long-term care or even home care, you could have high patient ratios. If you were to slap a GoPro on me right now, you would see me running like crazy in long-term care, washing people and doing their care in really crazy amounts of time that really isn't the best and it’s not really conducive to a great work environment. That's not to slap every long-term care home or home care company with the same brand, but that is a common problem in our field. You're running from person to person all day long. You’re running to feed someone, running to change someone. Now this person's going down for their nap, this person's getting up from their nap.
Whereas if you were in the hospital with me, you would see me going to do bed baths. When I was in ICU I'd be bed bathing, changing people, feeding people (when they do eat) and helping a lot of our nursing staff as well with turns and repositioning people. It was a whole other beast in and of itself because when you're in ICU you have tubes everywhere. You are connected to tubes everywhere. The dynamic of caring for someone changes again. You would see me carefully holding wires, doing a gentle bed bath, maybe holding someone while they got a wound dressing, helping reposition them. I provided respite for them because when you're in the ICU, it's scary. A lot of people leave with post-traumatic stress disorder. To have someone sit there with you and maybe watch a bit of TV is just another aspect of patient care.
At the start of COVID, during the first wave, I worked with a hospital, and we were helping staff in nursing homes that were hit really badly by COVID. One of the homes I was in at the time had the military deployed as well. I was working a little bit with them too, not so much, but we were all in the same workspace. I found that all of the problems and the issues and the things that I experienced there, I also saw in the second wave as well, and another long-term care home that I was in that got hit horribly with COVID.
I think the main struggle was a lack of PPE, actual proper protective equipment. When I was in the first wave, I reached out to the public on my social media platform and asked people if anyone was making caps or masks or boot covers like we used, and if they could donate them because I was in one of the worst hit homes in Ontario. People started flooding in PPE and I would be picking up PPE after work and distributing it throughout the whole facility.
It was crazy because so many workers really wanted PPE and it was almost a special privilege for us. At the time they were saying you don't need an N95 for this and I walked into my shift and a soldier would screen us. This soldier is standing there in a full-blown hazmat suit, with an N95 on and screening me at the door. Then went in and I wasn't allowed an N95. It was like, wait a second, does my life matter less than the soldiers? A lot of people are leaving because they feel disrespected sometimes in their job and they feel run down.
The PSW role was designed for bedside care, so you're not supposed to be a go-to all around person for dietary and cleaning spaces. There are other people who want to do that job and that's their job. I feel like some places treat the PSW as the one-stop shop for that.
In the second wave, I wasn't even handed the right PPE and I got COVID immediately from working. This was just before vaccinations came out, so I was very disappointed. It was not well-maintained in there. It was unclean, and honestly, in both spaces I was in, it was almost like a free for all. The question became, where is management? Where is everybody? You had COVID positive residents with Alzheimer's and dementia wandering around and touching everything. There were no real clean spaces. There's no proper place to eat your lunch. People were changing in the parking lots out of their scrubs.
It was so wild to me that this was our system, promoting patient-centred care where people pay thousands of dollars to live there and buy a bed there. You expect that they're being taken care of, but when you walk in the door It's a free for all. Nothing is clean. PPE is being held on to like it's a precious resource and workers are being just run into the ground. You can't give proper patient care when you have an entire unit to take care of yourself. You're just running and you're just trying to get people changed and fed and you know that you're not doing the best job, but you have to keep going and doing it because if you don't, the next person doesn't get changed and fed. You had the fulfillment aspect and that's why you stayed, but you're not getting that anymore. You're walking away from your shift being like, I don't even know if I made a difference today. I feel like I just fed and changed people constantly. I don’t even feel good about the work that I've done.
We don't have those sorts of rules in place and the proper patient ratios in place. We also don't have autonomy or regulation. People are walking away and we're seeing a shortage. It's a massive problem because of the ratio of PSWs to patients in LTC. We are LTC. We make up almost all of the staff there. You have your dietary, janitor staff, nurses and things like that, but PSWs are basically taking care of all the units in regards to bedside care.
Even in the second wave to try and find PPE was really disheartening for me because nothing had changed. We're in dire conditions. People are dying like crazy. My colleagues are putting people in body bags like nobody's business and yet I'm running around trying to find PPE so that we can do our job safely.
You start wondering who's running the show. You're on your own and then you're being called the hero outside to the media. You're a hero. You're holding everything together. Good for you. But the real question was who was in charge here? Why was this even allowed?
It's sad to know that families think that everything's okay on the outside when through the walls, it's a jungle. People were breaking down left, right and centre. My colleagues were breaking down, left, right and centre, which was really sad to watch. Workers are giving their kids to family members to be able to come to work because they are scared of infecting their family members.
The PSWs that were in long-term care for a while before COVID, they’re watching the residents die and they were breaking down. I watched people break down so badly that it even gave me post-traumatic stress disorder as well. Just being in these homes alone was so scarring for me because, like I said, it was all allowed to be a jungle. Then all over the media, it's ‘patient-centred care’ and ‘you're a hero’, but behind closed doors, we’re left alone. There are so many issues and they were there before COVID, COVID just kind of put a spotlight on them big time.
The connecting moments and just knowing that I am doing a good job. I'm not trying to toot my own horn or put myself on a pedestal, but I know that I'm doing the best job that I can and that’s what these people deserve. That's the thing that's kept me going through that entire mess. If no one's going to be here, at least I'm here and I can give these people the best care that I can.
I met a man there that had Alzheimer's and unfortunately, we couldn’t sit there and give him engagement and things like that. I met with him in the hospital later and he was so much better, and I got to chat with him and take care of him in the hospital. That was a very cool clicking moment for me.
When I'm in the hospital, I had great moments with patients. I had one man that I built a great relationship with. When he was going to pass, he asked me to give him one last shave and clean up and all that stuff before he passed away. So, that was something that I did for him. We had a great moment together. He knew I like Dolly Parton, so we played Dolly Parton all the time and I got to shave him, and he passed away peacefully that night. He told me that day that he loved me. That was special for me, it was emotional and lovely, but that's why I'm here. That's why I need to keep going. Those moments keep my morale a little bit higher to prevent myself from burnout.
I struggled a bit with burnout, but I also think it was because I didn't fully understand that I had PTSD. I had my doctor tell me that this was textbook PTSD. I thought I was just hormonal and I'm emotional, but my doctor told me otherwise.
I read a good quote and it was: even though you feel it, it's not yours to carry. I think that that's very important for us because it's made to feel like it is ours to carry. You go to your job; you do the best that you can, and you live with that, and you know that you've done the best that you can. Then you go home, and you don't have to be a part of every Facebook post that's got to talk about health care. You don't have to fill your timeline with those things. You can make your social media a safe space for yourself, which I think is important, but was hard back in the day because that's all we talked about on social media. You come home from a hard day at work, you'd go on your social media, and you'd see it plastered there. So it's important to create little spots of peace and quiet for yourself where if you like to go for walks, you go for walks. You put the phone down, you do your walk, you remind yourself that you're doing the best job that you can, and you try to sit with that as best as you can. Don't try to take the weight of everything else on, even though it is super, super hard not to.
To start off with, I would say I would really love to see the PSW scope honoured for all that it can be. The PSW can be utilized so well, and sometimes I feel like we're under-utilized. We do have a lot of skills, and we have a lot of specializations that we could be doing, but it's just not being tapped into right now for whatever reason. I think we would be an incredible resource to help fill some of the gaps. Those gaps have been here for ages and we could be doing so much more in our roles, but we're not.
I really hope regulation comes soon. I mean, we know that it's coming, but when is it coming? We need that. We need that element. It's great for the public to know you're being held accountable, which again, is going to generate that whole respect aspect that we need. We need our job to be respected more.
We need standardized wages as well. A lot of PSWs get two jobs to get by, which I know a lot of people do now given inflation, but it would be nice to have one job and to be able to live off of that job.
It would be nice to not have your protective equipment held in front of your face like it's a treat. I don't know why that even happened. It was super disrespectful, it felt really horrible like we were being exploited in a way.
For the future, I hope that we really start to make actual changes. I found a lot of the time it's like a media thing where we're just painting the perfect picture saying ‘Oh yeah, we're going to work on that. We're going to work on that’, and then you book meetings to work on the next meeting and then nothing is actually happening. It just looks like it is on the outside.
We need to create safe patient ratios. If you're going to advertise that it's patient-centred care, it should be patient-centred care, and you should have the staffing ratio to fulfill that. If that's what you're advertising to the public, you should be backing that up and you shouldn't be putting all the work on one worker because people will work themselves into the ground.
What if something unsafe happens? Who gets blamed? A lot of the time it's the PSW. It's a PSW that's been bound by an NDA that can't say anything, can't speak up for themselves. Creating that respect, wage standardization, creating autonomy for the profession, and creating proper staffing ratios and patient ratios are all very important.
I think for health care in general, and it sounds kind of spicy, but honestly, egos need to leave the table. I find a lot of the time when suggestions come up people can take it really personally and then it becomes almost like a power struggle. We are in it for genuine reasons and to create better health care. This has nothing to do with you personally. I think that needs to really be left at the doorstep here.
I've preached this multiple times as well, but just to kind of leave it off, we've really prioritized profit over actual health care. It’s become a system of if we can cut corners to make an extra buck or two, we're doing that. It's costing people big time.
With all of those in mind, I think we could really move forward if we looked at the system again and made adjustments and actually rooted for the worker on so many more levels than just performance activism for the media.
The big thing is if you're coming in to make a little bit more than minimum wage and it's the money that's driving you in: don't come. We're not making tons of money.
I think if you genuinely want to help people and you can stomach some of the things that you will see, then welcome. A big problem that I've seen, especially with the new breed of PSWs that learn online is that they are not getting some of the experiences that they need while they are in school and realize after that they've graduated that they can't even stomach some of this job.
You really need to be aware of yourself because you're going to see a lot. You're going to see a lot of bodily fluids and you're going to see death as well. You’re with people in the most vulnerable time of their lives and they are really counting on you to show up for your job. When you do, it means so much to them. You will have someone that's crying on their deathbed telling you, I love you, thank you for everything. That's when it hits home. Sometimes you will have someone on a ventilator who's writing, ‘I'll miss you’ because they're getting better and are going to another floor.
Those moments are so incredible and you cannot just manufacture them. You get those by being a PSW, being in the healthcare field, and it's an incredible feeling.
If we all leave, they're just going to create another position that's going to pay less and essentially replace the PSW. We need the staff. We need people to come in. We need people that want to make a change because you really can make a change even if your leadership isn't listening. Everybody you work with bedside feels the impact of your care. That is so powerful and you can't get that from a lot of other positions.
If you're coming to the PSW family, I'm thrilled because it's been one of the most rewarding career choices.
It was funny because I was just really down in the dumps about the long-term care homes that I was in. I felt angry and really sad because I was seeing all of this stuff and I felt like I couldn't do anything outside of my bedside position and role. I wanted to be a part of a team and a group of people that maybe were starting to push for the change on a platform where a lot of people can see and hear it and be involved.
Sometimes it's a very lonely field because when you're in home care, you're working by yourself, you don't really know that you have a community. OPSWA is a community for people to belong to and to discuss everything, which honestly is very therapeutic.
As we all know, there's not a lot of resources for mental health support for healthcare workers right now in general. It's nice to have OPSWA there. We have the mental health supports going out. We have Angelique who performs wellness seminars or did in the past. If you join the advisory committee, you can voice your opinions on things. OPSWA leadership is going to take that and listen and advocate for you on a government level when they can.
Before my initial meeting, I Googled something about the Ontario PSW Association, found them, found a number for them and called one of my now colleagues, and just sent my sob story over the phone to her saying: this is what I want to do and this is what how I want to help. She hooked me up and then I got to meet Miranda and Ian and my, now, colleague, and not just the woman on the phone.
It was really cool because they all listened to me, and they made me realize that I do have a voice and it’s something I can use even if it shakes sometimes. That was special for me because it made me realize that I went through all this stuff and it's been stressful, it's been horrible, but you can take that and you can actually make some change from it and use it as fuel to a fire, but in a productive way.
That's why I joined OPSWA. I think it's really important for people to stay involved and learn more about your profession and it’s been wonderful.
It's been very cool. I'm learning a lot about the tech side of it. I'm not very good at that yet. So, stay tuned for that transformation.
The PSW podcast is about the PSW. Miranda, Ian, and Debbie, they just want me to go and run with my thoughts and ideas and they're very open and very just wonderful leadership. I can go in and I can do different things with the podcast. I can talk about different cracks in our healthcare system. I have shows lined up with PSWs who want to tell their story. Then I'm also looking into different aspects, like we actually have this prominent problem in health care right now, and I know this person's affected by it, so I really want to bring them on the show, hand them the mic and say, Hey, can you speak to this a little bit more? Because I think this deserves a lot more recognition than it's getting.
It's such a privilege to have the platform, so I want to give it away as well and be like, here, please speak, because people hear it. It's on a whole new platform. I created two new forms of social media for the podcast. I’m on Facebook and I'm on Instagram as well, so I'm really excited to get those going and to just kind of start having meaningful conversations where you're not silenced, you're not slapped with an NDA and told to shush and we can really start airing some of this stuff out because people aren't listening and they won’t until they start hearing some of the gritty details and then they're like, Oh my gosh, that's horrible.
We are all screaming for help here so, I'm really hoping the show can help to create some change.
Keep going, but don't push yourself to the brink of a breakdown or to burnout. Know that if you have a thought or an opinion or something, to start looking into the channels that you can use and the people that you can contact and learn how to advocate for your profession in a constructive way. There are smart ways of doing it and there's ways where it can be very tricky.
I find that there are so many people on the ground with so many good ideas, they're so aware, but that's where it ends. Seek out OPSWA or something like that and have your voice be known and be heard.
You really do matter, even though it feels like you're insignificant at times in our profession, what you do is important. Your thoughts are very important. At the end of the day, if you know you're giving the best care possible that you can with what you have right now, just know you're doing your best and you really are making an impact on people, even if you don't get the thank you that day or someone doesn't look in your eyes and hold your hand and say, I love you. You are making an impact on people's lives and your job is so much more important than the public or leadership even realize. Know that and know your worth.
Taylor is the Ontario PSW Association's PSW Spokesperson. Taylor is a 2016 Personal Support Worker (PSW) Graduate and a true COVID-19 Warrior. Taylor has years of experience being a PSW within several settings including community care, home care, retirement and Long Term Care. Through the first few waves of COVID-19, Taylor worked tirelessly in Long Term Care protecting our most vulnerable and even caught COVID herself. After recovering from COVID, Taylor went to work in ICU at an Ontario Hospital and now works in various avenues of the PSW field.
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