By Barbara Fletcher
I have always been a helper.
For over 20 years, I have done the work of a PSW (Personal Support Worker), and I am good at it.
I work in home care, the purpose of which is to keep people out of LTC (Long-term Care) and hospitals. It is better mentally, and therefore physically, for people to remain in their homes for as long as they can.
That’s where I come in.
I go to them, helping those who need assistance in doing things for themselves, or to do for them what they cannot. I come to know them in the process: their wants, needs, habits, and life stories. I listen as they share their joys and sorrows; I laugh with them and hold them when they cry. I have even been present at their death as a support for family.
I am also the eyes and ears when it comes to their health and well-being. I am constantly monitoring them, ensuring good health, sounding the alarm when I must, or acting quickly when there is a crisis (and I have seen those!).
In order to be the best I can be at what I do, I pay for my own First Aid Training, as well as any other relevant courses that serve to increase my knowledge base. This I do mostly on my own, unpaid time, and at my own expense. While I can claim fees at tax time, it doesn’t help when I must come up with the money in the moment.
I do all this while driving across Grey and Bruce. Working in LTC pays so much better, and it’s easier on the vehicle. One drives to the facility, does the 8 hours, and goes home. My vehicle becomes my office on wheels while working Home-care as I go from place to place with my supplies, racking up kilometres and wear and tear that is nowhere near covered by the paid per/kilometer rate.
Things were good, once. Four years ago, I finally qualified for a mortgage to purchase a house, a longtime dream of mine! It wasn’t expensive: it needs work but it’s home, be it ever so crumbled.
The hours were good then, but not long after they dropped off, making it impossible for me to be able to do the larger jobs that should be done by a proper tradesperson. I still managed because I am a frugal person: the monthly mortgage payment with municipal taxes included is less than the rent I had been paying.
I need the internet for research and learning, but I don’t have satellite or cable television. My vehicle is ten years old. I use my utilities sparingly. I repair rather than replace, if I can. Some minor house repairs I can do myself, time and budget allowing. I side-of-the-road shop a lot. I was getting by, but could not save that money they tell you should have for when times are tough.
It got to the point where I needed to do something to increase my income, so I took on a second job in a long-term care residence. I had 6 minutes to get each of my 12 charges out of bed and to the breakfast table. I lost half an hour because two baths were required, and it was terrible: skipping certain tasks to stay on time, wresting them into their clothes…I could not be that brutal to them. I refuse to ever work LTC again unless the numbers change.
I took on another home-care job that pays the same, but the per/kilometer rate is so much better, but as it’s mostly private pay and insurance claims, most of the work is not long term. I also do self-directed, as well as private pay (I have a business license and am insured); but those last two I usually let slide to balance things so I do not become burned out. I live alone, which I love…but all responsibility falls on me: repairs, income…
I had no idea that at the age of 56, I would need more than one job to make ends meet.
Yet here I am.
Then came The Day Everything Changed: March 11th, 2020, the day the Pandemic was declared.
People panicked while many things were rationed, some of those eventually becoming impossible to find. Then there was the profiteering…
The lucky ones were able to work from home; the unlucky were laid off or lost their jobs entirely. We were told we had to give up second jobs to limit the risk of contamination; that really hurt, but I did it. I was able to keep working Job 1, but my hours dropped off again as patients were afraid I might bring the virus to them. They knew how conscientious I am, but they didn’t want to chance it. I do not blame them.
I picked up a few more hours when some workers were unable to work (childcare issues, health issues), but it was not enough. I was brainstorming what I would do, and then it came: The Pandemic Pay, or ‘Hazard Pay’, as I call it. It was delayed in some cases because of details, and there are those who did not qualify, but should have.
It was not enough, but it was something. Despite it, It was becoming harder to pay the bills, something I was not used to. People were telling me I should apply for this help or that help, but I didn’t qualify for any of it. I agonized.
I have worked long and hard to get this house, and I do not want to lose it. Seeing no other option in the moment, I made the painful decision to defer my mortgage for 6 months in hopes it will help.
Here’s the thing: the Pandemic Pay stops for me today, August 14th. It stops, and my hours have yet to recover.
At some point, the patients who paused service will eventually return, but the timing remains to be seen, especially since cold and flu season will be here soon, possibly causing the Second Wave and adding to the fear.
I do not want to lose my house, but I might, due to circumstances beyond my control.
The Hazard Pay is done, but the Pandemic rages on.
Republished with permission from Barbara Fletcher and the Owen Sound Hub