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Longread: Being a Personal Support Worker during a pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis is impacting all of us, but some people are feeling the impacts more than others. Personal Support Workers in particular are navigating a combination of increasingly urgent work that is at the same time increasingly dangerous.

Toronto health and science writer Wendy Glauser spoke to two PSWs — one sick with COVID-19 and the other having lost a quarter of her income — to get a sense of what life is like right now for those who care for our most vulnerable.

Excerpt:

PSWs start at $16.50 an hour. Both Gilbert and Turney are senior PSWs, so they’ve reached the maximum wage, $19 an hour. But it’s not enough, especially considering they’re not adequately compensated for travel time between clients. By Gilbert’s calculations, she loses almost three hours a day in unpaid time on transit, because her employer pays travel time according to how long it would take in a car. “Every day, you hear about the frontline worker, ‘We thank you, we thank you,’” says Turney. But while grocery workers are getting a raise, and other frontline employees like police officers are getting one-time bonuses due to the additional risk, many PSWs are effectively seeing a salary cut.

Ferrier wants to make it clear that PSWs are more than willing to do their part. “We have PSWs working in long-term care homes who are self-isolating away from their families,” says Ferrier, who recently sent take-out to a house that four PSWs are temporarily sharing to avoid spreading the disease to their loved ones. In other cases, PSWs who have seen their home care clients dry up have taken on temporary contracts in long-term care homes that are short-staffed because of outbreaks. On Friday, Christine Mandegarian, a PSW working in a Scarborough nursing home, became the first PSW to die from COVID-19. “They’re marching in droves towards the front of the frontlines of health care,” says Ferrier.


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