The First Annual OPSWA Conference!


I arrived at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto at around 7am. The conference wasn’t to start until 9am but I wanted to be early. I had spoken to Miranda previously in the week and I was anxious to meet her in person prior to the conference starting as I knew that once everything got underway she would be very busy.
On Saturday, April 26th the first ever OPSWA – Ontario Personal Support Worker Association – Conference took place with over 50 PSWs in attendance. Vendors such as the OLTCA – Ontario Long Term Care Association – and Preferred Healthcare Services were in attendance as well, there to discuss EVERYTHING PSW.
I was home. I have never felt more welcome and at home with a group of strangers before in my life. Even though I had never met any of these people before, I felt as though I got them. We understood each other. Every single one of us is a PSW who works in long term care or home care and we understand without having to explain ourselves all the difficulties and tribulations that we face on a daily basis in the work place. This was a conference of learning and coming together as a whole to respect the personal support worker as a necessary member of the healthcare world.

I’m the newbie to OPSWA. I am very happy to be a part of this wonderful organization as their social media and blogger guru. Hello, I get to Facebook, Twitter and blog about PSWs and get recognition and pay for it? Count me in! OPSWA would not be in existence without Miranda Ferrier, a wonderful and dedicated individual who founded the organization. This organization has been a necessity in getting PSWs on the map in Ontario, in getting us the recognition we deserve for all that we do in healthcare. A big shout out as well to Jennifer Giroux, OPSWA’s CEO and Jessica Maga, OPSWA’s PR. All wonderful women that I couldn’t have been happier to have met and I cannot wait to work together with you all at OPSWA!

So, now that I’ve hyped you all up into wanting to go to next year’s conference, how about I tell you what went on this year? You’ve been warned, your excitement level may hit an ultimate high.

First on the docket was Tilak Dutta of the Toronto Rehab Institute. PSWs in attendance received some in depth knowledge about proper lifting techniques so that both us AND the residents we help are safe and transferred properly. What really impressed me was a mechanism used to help with transferring a resident into a sling for a mechanical lift. As a PSW, I’m sure we can all relate to the difficulties of having to turn a resident over several times in order to get the sling on correctly. This can take up time and be uncomfortable for the resident. This device safely inserts balloon-like tubes underneath a person while laying in bed with the use of air to inflate it once on the other side. Picture someone laying on a water noodle – but softer. This can be done with out having to rotate your resident side to side which saves copious amounts of time and lessens the probability of a potential accident. I enjoyed this seminar very much.

At around 10am Sgt. John Keating of the Durham Regional Police took to the stage to address Senior Abuse in LTC. I cringed a lot when listening to some of the stories he told us as I CANNOT fathom doing anything like this to my residents. However, it is very important that PSWs hear this because IT HAPPENS and the more knowledge we have, the more power we have to put an end to it. Sgt. Keating presented his points in a manner that kept us interested and wanting more. He was funny, interactive and most importantly passionate about his cause. PSWs NEED support just like our residents do and it was absolutely fantastic to hear speakers who were just as passionate as we are about what we do. Thank you, Sgt. Keating.

After our break – because let’s face it, even though we’re enthused and excited, we’re also antsy for washroom breaks and coffee! – we were very privileged to hear information from our key note panel, featuring Sue VanderBent – CEO of the Ontario Home Care Association, Candace Chartier – CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association & Gilbert Sharpe – Partner, Fasken Martineau. All three panellists introduced themselves and what it is they did in their positions. They also took questions from the audience regarding the future of PSWs in healthcare and their responses were very encouraging.

My favourite part of the conference – and I’m not making a pathetic attempt to kiss butt, I swear – was when Miranda Ferrier, the President and Founder of OPSWA took to the stage to talk about Professionalism in the Workforce. PSWs are NOT just diaper changers and feeders. That is an insult to our profession. We are so much more than that, and to get that point across it is absolutely imperative that we behave professionally in the work place when it comes to not only our residents, but our co-workers, employers and anyone else we come across. When going for interviews – do NOT dress in booty shorts. When Miranda mentioned that she had seen someone do this, my jaw dropped. Seriously? You are an important character in the world of healthcare – ACT LIKE IT! Miranda got these points across very well. The crowd was excited, engaged and if truth be told – maybe a little scared. I think everyone took a long look at themselves and their careers. Myself included. We could all benefit from a little reminder, right?

Louise Lachowskyj of Right At Home Canada and a very respected RN in the field spoke to us about Humour In Palliative Care. Did you have to re-read that? Yes, there is humour in palliative care and in all aspects of the healthcare field. Remember, we are working with people – people who have personalities, feelings and even a sense of humour. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, your greatest asset is getting to know your clients and residents. This will not only help with care, but getting to know them as a person will help them feel good about themselves as well, no matter the situation they are in. Just because someone is dying doesn’t mean they won’t find a joke funny. It doesn’t mean they won’t laugh at you if you make a fool of yourself. Louise did a fabulous job of pointing all of this out to us with stories from her own experiences. Her enthusiasm really had us paying attention and I think we all learned a lot from her.

Art Mathews of Preferred Health & Rod Piukkala, VP of Backcheck also spoke to the crowd. Their presentations informed us of various courses PSWs can take to further their careers and the importance of getting a police background check, something almost all employers require from their PSWs.

If all that wasn’t exciting enough – are you convinced yet? You should be! – we also had a very special surprise visitor join us. Deb Matthews, the Health Minister of Ontario came and had some extremely lovely words to say about OPSWA and all PSWs. Her words were uplifting, encouraging and full of genuine kindness and thanks for all that we do. To have the Minister of Health on our side is SO HUGE I can’t think of words to further describe it. Tomorrow – Tuesday, April 29th – she will be making a huge announcement which I am happy to say I will be in attendance for with OPSWA. Can we all say excitement overload?

So. Are you convinced yet? Will you fellow PSWs be in attendance for next year’s conference? I know I will be. This weekend was not only extremely informative but so much fun I think I’m still recovering from it all. I should also mention that after the conference, OPSWA held it’s PSW Appreciation Night at the Monarch Pub located at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel in Toronto. Yes, there was wine involved and yes, there was dancing. That’s all I’m going to say – if you want to know more come out next year! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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