Union and collaboration make all the difference in any profession, but especially in healthcare, and no other group benefits more from sticking together than personal support workers (PSWs), who play such an integral role in the healthcare sector in Ontario and across the country. With that in mind, we recently had Miranda Ferrier, CEO and Provincial President of the Ontario Personal Support Worker Association (OPSWA), as a guest on the Caring Support Podcast, where she spoke about the resources and opportunities available for PSWs, those who join the organization and their vision for the future of the PSW profession in the province.
This is what Miranda told us:
The Ontario PSW Association is the only official professional association in Ontario for personal support workers. So what professional associations do is that we provide support and membership to personal support workers in Ontario. In order to be a member of our association, you have to be a PSW graduated from an accredited program in the province of Ontario or be eligible for our grandfathering program. We offer $1 million professional liability insurance that's mandated with every one of our memberships within the association. That is for the protection of the personal support worker and those in their care. And we also offer badges and I want to speak about that because that's very popular with our with our PSWs. Badges give PSWs the recognition they so desperately seek in the field. These badges include their name, their designation of PSW, and their picture. Thanks to these badges, employers can actually go online and look PSWs up to ensure that they do have a clear criminal record check, that their education credentials are up to par, and that they are who they say they are and that they carry a $1 million professional liability insurance. So that's some of the stuff that we offer as a professional association.
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But really the most important thing that we do is we give it that professional voice to PSWs. We spend a lot of time with the Ontario government. We work very closely with them. I just had a meeting with Premier Ford last week. That's an opportunity for us to share the PSWs thoughts, their plight on the front lines, what is actually happening on the front lines and bring that right to the change makers in the Ontario government. So that's a huge part of what the Professional Association does.
We also promote having a membership with the association as a best practice in Ontario because it not only protects the people that we care for, but also protects the PSWs in terms of the liability insurance, and in case there's oversight, they have support for all of their questions and concerns. PSWs can also up that liability insurance if need be. We can offer up to $5 million coverage for a PSW if they require it.
The OPSWA is a place of belonging. We like to call it a family of sorts. We're a family of over 52,000 strong in Ontario. I might not know everyone's name, but I know what an OPSWA badge looks like. And it's a wonderful feeling to know that there's someone out there that has their back. We take that very seriously. We just we really strongly support our PSWs.
On top of the benefits I mentioned, we also offer continuing education opportunities. We actually have a killer professor, her name is Deb Chapman. She's new to the association, but not new to me. I've known Deb for 15 years. She used to be a PSW professor at Niagara College. And so she came on with us to develop PSW specific seminars and courses. One of the ones we do right now is a PSW refresher program, so it's only 12 hours. It was developed with the association from our Mosby's textbooks that PSWs know it's our Bible. It's just a refresher on everything that we took as PSWs, because we have a lot of people out there that want to come back to the field. We highly encourage PSWs to come back and or maybe they've been in it for so long as things have changed. I haven't been in the field as an active PSW in ten years. I wouldn't know the first thing about taking care of a colostomy bag or stoma care. So, those are the courses that we're going to be coming out with shortly.
We have we have our free lawyer line. So, when you're a member of our association, you have access to 24/7 legal support and not just for questions concerning your employment or your jobs, which is actually something we recommend if you have questions to call our lawyer line. But also, PWS can ask about divorce, custody, property issues. This lawyer line has actually come in really handy with a lot of our members because it's free with their membership for the year of membership.
We also offer discounts on major stores. We've partnered with Attractions Ontario. So, over the summer our PSWs got huge discounts across Ontario for things like the Ghost Tour, which was in Toronto and Ottawa and Kingston. They had discounts on the the boat tours in downtown Toronto and Harbourfront, Great Wolf Lodge. It was really great, especially because there was a winery in there and I think one point we had an entire bus full of OPSWA members that went on a winery tour. So we thought that was fun. It was an opportunity for them to shake loose. But after two and a half years of COVID, two years of COVID, it just didn't apply to them. It applied to their families. That's another thing that we really pride ourselves on is is being able to not just extend these benefits or these discounts to the PSWs that we represent, but also for them to be able to take their families and experience those things at a discount, like the ROM, Royal Ontario Museum, or the Hockey Hall of Fame, and many other attractions.
We operate provincially, but we also operate on a federal level, and one of the things we're advocating for at a federal level, which does play into provincially as well, is title protection.
Let me explain that a little bit: In Ontario and across Canada, we have the personal support worker, but we're called something different in almost every other province across Canada. There's over 100 titles for support worker in Canada that fall under the same NOC code. The NOC code is what the government creates in order for us to do our taxes or get paid. Then we ask ourselves, why are our patients or clients or residents confused? Well, that would be the reason why they're confused. They don't know who is who, and we all don't do necessarily the exact same job. But the actual premise of it and how we perform it is exactly the same. It's personal care, right? It's all based in personal care. So what we went to the government and we said it was "Look at all these titles, over 100 titles" and they said, "Oh my goodness, where did you guys get all these titles? That's not good."
And the reason why it's not good is, number one, because it creates divide, creates confusion. Not everyone thinks that PSWs are nurses. We are not nurses. Not that there's anything wrong with nurses. They play a very vital role in healthcare across Canada and we admire them greatly. It's just the case that the PSW is a PSW. We perform bedside nursing care, that is our job, that is the main thing that we do, and the nurses don't. And that's the difference between the two. Nurses sometimes do, but primarily it's a PSW that does the majority of bedside nursing care. So, if you have someone who let's say is from Ontario and they're receiving care from a PSW, and then suddenly they go to Vancouver and they're getting care from a Health Care Aide. They don't know what they're doing. They don't know what is what. So they just referred to everyone as nurse, which causes confusion, and allows employers to take advantage of different titles and gives them new job roles within that title and duties upon their scope of practice, which also puts people at risk. So, by creating just one standard, uniform title across Canada, across Ontario, what that will do is create a safer environment, professionalism will skyrocket, and we'll have a set scope of practice and standards of practice that we have to have to adhere to.
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Now, here in Ontario, one of the things that we did advocate for for over ten years and we won it was the regulation of personal support workers. Now, PSWs have never been regulated. There have been two registries in the past in Ontario that the former Liberal government did try to make that happen, and in both times the association knocked that down because we need a registry. We needed something that would do more than just list names on a website. We needed to have that oversight, that protection mechanisms, the regulations in place, the professional status, the title protection. So, with this bill 283, it's an authority, it falls underneath the Ministry of Health. The regulations are starting to be built. We go into conversations in January 2023 to began this, we're really excited because it will standardize and professionalize the PSW sector. Therefore our biggest call is for that one name, the one title for across Ontario. Now we can do that through those regulations, federally is a bit more difficult, but at least here in Ontario we'll be able to do that. So, we won't have PSWs, supportive care aide, resident care attendant, home support worker, health care aide here in Ontario. We will have streamlined PSW and that's what we want so we can just stop confusion. So that's one of the big conversations we've been having with the Ontario government, as well as retention strategies, how to promote the PSW profession, how to bring more people in.
One of the statements I did say was, employers are losing PSWs, but we're still growing at the association. So obviously there's something we're doing right, and we need to rely on that to promote the profession.
Well, our dream for Ontario is happening with the regulation. As an association we fought for it for over 12 years. People think it's really easy to lobby government. It's one of the most it's the most difficult I've ever done. It's not easy. They think we just walk in those doors and that is not how that works. And so, the dream for Ontario is coming to fruition in the fact of regulation. But what we would like to see is the PSW become a profession of choice, not just a fly by night kind of "I'm going to become a PSW and then I'm going to go be a nurse," which nothing wrong with that, it's just we need an army of PSWs. And how do we get that army? Well, make the PSW more and have one title across Canada, so they are able to move inter-provincially as PSWs, and not have to redo their training. Right now, a PSW from Ontario goes to Nova Scotia and has to redo some training. Because of our relationship with the Ontario government, we're able to take PSWs and CCAs and HCAs and PCAs from across Canada and if they come into Canada or come into Ontario, we as an association are able to grandfather them to work on Ontario healthcare. Anywhere else it's not the way it works. Why? It just doesn't make any sense. It just doesn't. And people don't have the money to do that. And we are so desperate on the front lines. So that's one of the main things we want to do is get rid of those inter-provincial boundaries so they can work wherever they want to work. And of course, professional recognition and proper regulation in every province. But that's like a 20 year rule. So hopefully we can get there sooner.
We want them to come join us. We want them to start off their careers with the support and the mentorship of the association, knowing that they have people that got their back, that they can ask those difficult and maybe embarrassing questions to when you first start your job and to know that they're not alone. I think that's that's the key point to this association is the knowledge that you're not alone, that you have the support of your peers, your colleagues, that you have the ability to reach out to your association, that can support you in any capacity, and to also know that you guys are extremely important. And we need you. And we need PSWs more than ever right now. And it's not a case of quantity. We need quality PSWs, so that's my message.
I love Caring Support. I think what you guys are doing is actually it's going to be hugely beneficial and it's going to help us reconfigure home care in Ontario. I met with Minister of Health last week as well, and we actually brought you guys up in the conversation because we have to look at home care in Ontario differently. Well, across Canada, truthfully, let's be honest, but it isn't working how it is right now. I mean, yes, now we have these Ontario health teams and we have to figure out how we're going to support with those Ontario health teams. But no one's really sure what's even going on there. But obviously, Caring Support, you guys have a system that works. There is a safety element behind it. You work with us. So there's that safety element and you're right involved in the system. So you're not just yourselves kind of floating on an island, right? You guys actually work with everyone and engage with everyone. And I think that's extremely important in health care because a lot of people can get into health care because they have egos and there is no room for egos in healthcare. We're talking about people's livelihoods. We're talking about their wellbeing. These are human beings. So that's why we like Caring Support. You guys are proving yourself and then some to the association.
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Miranda Ferrier is President and co-founder of both the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association and the Canadian Support Workers Association. She is also the go-to expert for national and local media covering stories about front-line health care and has been called upon by governments and Crown inquiries to provide insight and testimony to improve care to vulnerable populations.
"I'm also a personal support worker myself," says Miranda. "I graduated Mohawk College in 2006 and I began my my career in Ontario health care. I've worked in home care, long term care, hospital settings as a personal support worker, started founded the association in 2010 because there was a need you could tell there was a need for PSWs to have our own voice, have a place we could call our own. And 12 and a half years later, here we are."
You can listen to the full interview with Miranda Ferrier from OPSWA by visiting the Caring Support Podcast or our YouTube Channel. You can also follow us on social media to see the most interesting clips of this conversation and go check out OPSWA's website to learn more about the association and how to become a member.
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