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The Care Paradox - simple and complicated

When all the dust settles, we will learn much from this experience of COVID19. We have already learned from our clients the importance of resilience and courage under extraordinary circumstances. We can take strength from that. What worries everyone in our Discerning Seniors community of care, is Ontario’s (and Canada’s) treatment of Personal Support Workers and their charges in care facilities. It has become painfully clear that we simply are not caring enough for our senior citizens or for their caregivers.

This willful blindness is not without historical precedent. Caregiving has long been an invisible unpaid job, a job traditionally held by a female relative, who would care for an aunt or parent in her home. However as women became more integrated in the workforce, some through choice, now many more through financial necessity, women continued to care for their elderly relatives. For some the care can become overwhelming, as ‘the sandwich generation’ struggles to raise a family, caring for their parents, and working inside and out of the home. The Personal Support Worker allowed some flexibility and much appreciated personal space for seniors to remain at their homes, while maintaining their independence. While publicly employed

PSWs in Ontario have received a $4.00 pay increase, a ‘pandemic premium’, it begs the question whether this increase will remain post pandemic.

Nothing malicious is at play here. None of us wish harm on our most vulnerable. But perhaps the commodification of the middle years, and the invisibility of our aging ones may shed light on what we value. Have we just overlooked aging, and the specialized care needed for us as we age? Have we put value only on those who consume and add to the bottom line? PSW’s are not a commodity. Nor is aging and the care for aging a red line on a spreadsheet. A new paradigm shift must be drawn up, putting people above profit, and care above capital. After all, we live in a province that adopted care for all, our OHIP model, which may have flaws in its delivery, but whose message remains clear: everyone deserves healthcare. Ontario nursing home staff shortages and high fatality rates during this pandemic has revealed a systemic devaluation of elder care. Not only are our senior citizens suffering, but their very caregivers, our PSWs who have been overworked and under supported (either through lack of sufficient PPE access, or insufficient pay which means many work at several different locations allowing pathogens to travel with them.). We surely cannot blame the workers. They are, after all, entitled to find full time work in order to pay their bills like us all. But their treatment as part-time commodities to be shifted between nursing homes must change now. It is only decent to treat our caregivers with the respect they deserve, and to elevate their position in society as valuable support workers for us all as we age. Restoring dignity to our caregivers will necessarily restore dignity to our elderly, whose vulnerability has shown us all too clearly the deadly consequences of carelessness.

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