February 14, 2022 | News

A PSW poses with a patient at West Nipissing General Hospital

By David Briggs. Reprinted from BayToday.com

Program provides hands-on training within a ‘living classroom’ setting

The Near North District School Board (NNDSB) launched a program this past October to help train personal support workers (PSWs), and the response has surpassed expectations.

The first cohort has been accepted, with 18 students taking part in North Bay with another 12 in Parry Sound. “We have created a wait list for September,” explained Lisa Spencer, the board’s coordinator of student success, “in the chance that we’re able to offer the same program again.”

Ideally, the program will once again receive funding from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, who paid the $2,000 tuition fee for each accepted student. The ministries also offered up to $5,115 for each student in the program to help offset living costs while they completed their training.

If similar funding can be arranged, and if there is interest from students, the plan is to extend the program and expand it to other areas, like Mattawa.

Interest was high for this intake, Spencer explained, noting that some of the new students “are graduates of the nursing program” and some are “re-engaged students” working to achieve a secondary school diploma. Some applicants came as “far as Moosonee” for the interviews. It is a “very wide-reaching program with a very wide variety of candidates,” she said.

The program is unique in that it allows students to earn up to six secondary school credits while they attend. For those without a diploma, this can help them reach that goal. The teaching method is also unique, focusing on hands-on learning, what Lucio Pavone calls “a living classroom.”

Pavone was the principal of Chippewa Secondary School in North Bay. Now retired, he is helping the board oversee this PSW program. “We started in mid-October,” he said, “and we are very pleased with the outcome as to where we’re at right now.”

He mentioned “one of the challenges of the pandemic is to find qualified instructors, and I think we’ve secured two amazing instructors,” one of whom holds a PhD in nursing, and the other is an RPN currently working at Cassellholme.

Cassellholme is one of the facilities where students will be placed, “learning the theory and application” of the job “right at the long-term care home,” Pavone said.

As the students advance “they are strategically placed with other PSWs in community placement, so it’s not necessarily restricted to those sites offering the learning,” Spencer explained. For instance, after gaining skills within a long-term care home, students may want to work with disabled adults or children with pervasive needs.

They will be “able to translate their skills to other places in the community,” Spencer said, and the additional workers will fill a need for PSWs in the area, a shortage that Pavone has heard referred to as “an acute crisis.”

The board is “happy to support” the PSWs entering the workforce through this program, noting it leads to “a solid career path with solid employment opportunities in our region.”

Pavone and Spencer are also working on Phase 2 of the program, which would help interested high school students stream directly into the PSW program upon graduation.

Feedback has been positive, the organizers said. One student mentioned to Pavone “that this is a life changing program for him,” and testimonials like that “really hits to the core of why we do what we do.”

For those interested in the program more information is available on the board’s website. Applications are open for a September 2022 start.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.