October 15, 2021 | News

Reprinted from Impact Stories, Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging.

Personal support workers (PSWs) provide hands-on care for more than 80,000 long-term care residents across Ontario. Their role in our healthcare system is vital to the well-being, health and quality of life of older adults.

In early 2020, a report from the Ontario Health Coalition drew attention to the escalating issue of PSW shortages in the province, which are now at crisis-level. The report raised daunting concerns for resident care and safety.

The Living Classroom partnership model addresses these challenges and profiles long-term care (LTC) and senior living as a rewarding career opportunity.

The Living Classroom partnership model was first implemented in the province in 2009 through a collaboration with Conestoga College, the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging and Schlegel Villages. Stemming from a shared vision to improve quality of life and care for LTC residents by training work-ready PSWs, the Living Classroom brings employers, educators, students, and residents together. Training takes place directly in LTC homes, providing real-world experience for students and mentorship opportunities for residents, while enabling employers to hire new graduates who understand the sector and are more confident about working with older adults.

The Living Classroom partnership model has been tested and evaluated in long-term care and retirement homes in both Guelph and Waterloo, with a recent publication in the journal Educational Gerontology providing evidence to support its success.

With support from the Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care at the RIA, the Living Classroom model is being shared across Ontario. In 2020, the model was adopted by the St. Louis Adult Learning and Continuing Education Centres with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

“We were looking for creative solutions to address space constraints and to enhance the learning experience,” says Tammy Cantin, Program Manager of PSW Training at St. Louis.

“I heard about the Living Classroom through network meetings. It seemed like the ideal approach to meet both the needs of St. Louis and the community. We worked through the Implementation Guide provided to us by the RIA and then began looking for care partners who might be ready to try out this model with us.”

After eight months of exploring potential partnerships, St. Louis identified local care providers interested in adopting the model. Fairview Seniors Community in Cambridge, Ontario was ready to collaborate.

St. Louis and Fairview partnered and worked to transform unused space at the seniors community into a new classroom, complete with equipment to build hands-on skills, as well as a kitchenette and break room.

The first cohort of St. Louis students began their learning experience in October 2020.

“We wanted to explore innovative ways to encourage people to get involved in the rewarding field of caring for seniors,” says Elaine Shantz, CEO of Fairview and Parkwood Seniors Communities.

“The Living Classroom allows students to experience the incredible privilege of working with older adults. Not only are they learning practical skills to work in their field, they’re also fostering rich interpersonal skills – building relationships, evaluating how this work fits with their career goals, and gaining real-life experience so they can hit the ground running after graduation. It’s a unique learning opportunity.”

The partnership and adoption of the Living Classroom model also benefit residents and employers.

“Our residents enjoy connecting with younger adults; they benefit socially and mentally from the rewarding interactions with students,” says Shantz.

“From a workforce standpoint, we get to know students and can hire directly out of the program. The transition into employment is smooth and comfortable for students. The process is efficient for us. When the experience is mutually beneficial, we see higher retention rates. And that’s exactly what Ontario needs right now.”

While COVID-19 has affected the program’s enrollment capacity and interactive features for 2020-2021, both St. Louis and the Fairview Seniors Community expect that the Living Classroom experience will only get better.

“We’re excited to see how this model will look without pandemic restrictions,” says Tammy Cantin.

“But already we’re seeing meaningful impact for everyone involved. If we could run all of our classes this way, we would.”

The Living Classroom model is a prime example of how the RIA drives innovation to solve real-world problems and enhance quality of life and care for older adults.

To learn more about the Living Classroom, click here.