We're on our way to making homecare better: Sharleen Stewart

Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare

We don’t always have the luxury of optimism, of knowing things will get better. When my dad was dying of cancer several years ago, we knew he wasn’t going to improve. I know this is a struggle that every family must go through.

Every family is different. In size, relationship, income level, culture, language. Designing a robust homecare system to fit all our needs has been and will continue to be difficult. But the political will is there and together we are slowly making change.

As a healthcare union that is trying to raise awareness of how important homecare really is, we are generally optimistic. We think that more and more people are recognizing the benefits of homecare and realizing that it’s a direction that most of us want to take.

Homecare is generally regarded as a very cost-efficient healthcare option because when people have access to care at home, they spend less time at the emergency room and in hospital when it is not strictly necessary. Economic efficiencies are an added bonus to improving the form of care that people of all ages prefer, if available.

We just did a campaign called “Rise for Homecare” for which ads appeared around the province calling on personal support workers and clients alike to write in with their stories about the services they give and receive.

In March 2015 we had commissioned an opinion poll and research report, which came back with some of the findings that we have been hearing anecdotally from members over the years:

  • Clients deeply appreciate and value their homecare workers and the services they deliver
  • For clients, consistency is crucial

One daughter of a client sent us a message of gratitude for all personal support workers.

“My mother has Alzheimer’s and lives at home with her husband, but would be in a long term care home if we hadn’t been able to arrange some caregiver relief for him. I will write to my MPP! Thanks for all you do!”

We learned more about some of the problems, too. As one client tellingly wrote through the “Rise for Homecare” site,

“I needed more than 2 hours a week, so I had to arrange and pay for another 6 hours a week on my own. Luckily, I was able to scrape together the money. What if I could not have done so?”

We did “Rise for Homecare” because, as one personal support worker wrote in, we want to make sure “our various levels of government that make the decisions look after our seniors and provide what is necessary to give them quality care.”

The first step is recognizing the problems, which our Health Minister has done, then working with stakeholders to find real solutions, such as the new move toward a self-directed care model for homecare clients.

Change is slow, but it is happening.

We can’t afford to take our healthcare system for granted. This ties in to political engagement that we need to encourage in one another. We all pay into public services together and the healthcare system takes up the largest chunk of those funds. We must think of this when it comes time to casting our vote in any election.

Our organization has maintained a continued presence in the healthcare community while different governments have come and gone. We hope that by pushing for improvements and raising public awareness we will make a difference over time. With our aging population, that means getting our home and community care system fully on track.

Let’s always remember the human reasons why we are doing this. Let’s remember our moms, dads, and other family that we so desperately want to see living at home.

Let’s think of our own individual needs, whether we are using the services currently or are thinking about it. Let’s remember the needs of that personal support worker who makes around $15/hour and sits in his pick-up to cry after helping a family through the death of a loved one.

By remembering these stories and feeling their impact we will guide ourselves to a better future.

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