Dinner conversations & debunking myths

I had dinner with an old friend the other night. She invited me over for a home cooked meal and even baked me a cake. Since I’ve been on the road a lot lately with work I figured that it was great way to enjoy a home cooked meal and catch up with a friend who I’ve known for years. I was pretty excited for it too. We’ve always gotten along pretty well but never really crossed that line of leaving the “friend zone.”

On paper it seemed like it was going to be a great night, but it all seemed to take a turn for the worse once she asked a very common question: “How’s work?”

Work was busy. At the time I had just wrapped up a video shoot in Hamilton with two lovely personal support workers, Carmen and Rachel. The focus of the video was to shed some light some real life issues facing these two PSWs; this boiled down to the issue of pensions. I described the process of coming up with the concept of the video, showing the contrast between these two very different women in two very different stages in their lives. An older, more established woman whose children have left the nest to raise children of their own, versus a young woman about to have her first child while still living under the roof of her parents’ home. The contrasts were many between the two PSWs, but the love for their profession and clients was similar.

The shoot was a lot of work, but rewarding and inspiring. I got to work with some really cool people whom I respect professionally. Carmen and Rachel did an excellent job sharing some of their personal stories, giving some much needed insight into some of the challenges of being a personal support worker. This wasn’t my first time working with Carmen and Rachel; they both have both played a key role in educating and informing the public of the value of Personal Support Workers. In fact, both of them have sat and discussed the future of the profession with Premier Kathleen Wynne and deputy Premier Deb Matthews.

My date had seen the Justice 4 PSWs campaign that SEIU had launched, on her commute to work; she also made mention before that she read this blog, and has kept up to date of all the political happenings within the healthcare industry. She’s always been an outspoken person and I admire that quality greatly, but having just told her about work, she then felt the need to express her thoughts on PSWs.

“I don’t understand why they’re getting so much attention; they’re not even qualified to do much.”

My heart sank, I tried not to react too harshly so I took a moment and chose my words. Having worked so closely to many personal support workers within the past year, I thought of how they would react to such a harsh statement. I knew of the hardships that they had to endure during their strike, not being fairly compensated for the work that they do. Though they may not be ‘qualified to do much’, they certainly are expected to go above and beyond their call of duty- administering medicine, cleaning, caring, soothing, chatting, reassuring, befriending, and the list goes on. I thought of the issues of verbal and physical abuse that many of them had to endure in order to make an honest wage for their families.  My date was a nurse, so I would have hoped that she would understand some of the hardships faced by frontline healthcare staff; clearly she did not.

“The work they do is highly skilled, but the care they provide is priceless. Let’s hope you never need the help of a PSWs, because that PSW might be the last person you see before you die,” was my immediate response.

We chatted some more about the issue, but I knew that my mind that I had checked out from the date. My appetite was gone, even the beautiful cake looked less appealing after her comments. I thanked her for the lovely meal and made my way to the exit. The evening reminded me that though PSWs are continuing to educate the public and beat stigma’s, there is still work to be done.

A.M.

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