It’s hard to argue with the numbers. Government of Canada projections indicate that by 2030 nearly one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65. Less than a decade ago, this figure was closer to one in seven. At the same time, the pool of personal support workers (PSWs) in long-term care (LTC) has been declining to the point where the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA) refers to it as “an occupation in crisis.”
One LTC home in Ottawa South is doing something about it. In an effort to recruit motivated new PSWs into careers in long-term healthcare, the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre is going back to school. Or, rather, school is coming to them through an innovative Integrated Personal Support Worker (IPSW) project in partnership with Algonquin College’s School of Health and Community Studies.
They call it the Living Classroom, an interprofessional healthcare education program delivered on-site at the Perley Rideau campus. Working out of a specially outfitted classroom laboratory, Algonquin College PSW students learn theory and skills from their own teachers, and are then able to put what they’ve learned into practice by engaging with residents, families, and healthcare team members inside a real work setting. The first cohort graduated in January 2018.
The Living Classroom at Perley Rideau is based on a successful model introduced by Conestoga College and the Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care (CLRI) at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging. The program meets all of the requirements for the one-year Ontario College PSW Program Certificate.
The environment for this IPSW immersive, shared learning project could not be more ideal. The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre is one of Ontario’s largest and most progressive LTC homes with 250 veteran residents and 200 community residents. It is also an innovative Seniors Village that also includes 139 independent-living apartments and a guest house. The Perley Rideau has a long history in the nation’s capital and was established in its present configuration in 1995. Today, it is served by 800 staff and 350 volunteers, and is rapidly positioning itself as a centre of excellence in frailty-informed care.
According to Director of Clinical Practice Jennifer Plant, plenty of opportunity exists for students to see how PSWs at Perley Rideau are treated as integral members of the healthcare team. The goal of the Living Classroom, she says, is ultimately to produce strong graduates who will want to take up staff positions in LTC.
“It’s very difficult to recruit healthcare professionals into long-term care,” Plant says. “By having the Living Classroom on site, we have an opportunity to showcase what we do so that students can see how our PSWs are valued as peer trainers and as members of our quality improvement teams that recommend, develop and implement leading practices.”
Research Coordinator Enrique Soto, PhD, a sociologist with an extensive background in health care research, has been with Perley Rideau since 2017, and is heavily involved in a comprehensive evaluation of the Living Classroom’s first cohort. The Ontario CLRI at Bruyère is assisting with the qualitative data analysis of the evaluation through the expertise of researcher Shelly Crick, PhD, and in sharing what is being learned through the offices of knowledge broker Michele Fleming.
“We thought this was a great way to partner with people who have the expertise and talent to help us with the evaluation,” Soto says.
Feedback from the participant questionnaires and focus group discussions following the first cohort graduation looks promising. PSW students who chose the immersive Living Classroom model over the standard model of college-based instruction interspersed with periods of clinical practice indicated they were more likely to go on to work as PSWs in LTC.
This is encouraging news to Plant, whose sights are squarely set on attracting strong healthcare recruits. She says that implementing evidence-informed practices such as the Living Classroom supports staff professional growth, which is key in improving the quality of resident care and patient safety.
“We continue to partner with the Ontario CLRI in building our Living Classroom,” Plant says. “We have a common goal in spreading innovation, and we want to make sure we are achieving this by showcasing the rewarding careers we can offer in long-term care.”