Never before has the critical role of Personal Support Workers been more apparent than during the pandemic.
These front line workers who have long worked tirelessly outside the spotlight were suddenly acknowledged as being some of the most vital workers in our communities.
May 19 is Personal Support Worker Day in Ontario.
All week we are profiling WoodGreen Personal Support Workers who continue to care for some of Toronto’s most vulnerable citizens with compassion and empathy.
ROSANA LONTOC – PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKER
When she cooks, Rosana Lontoc uses plenty of ingredients but always adds a generous portion of both patience and compassion.
“I love helping, and I really like cooking,” says Lontoc, who works as a Personal Support Worker at WoodGreen’s Assisted Living Centre on O’Connor Drive.
On Sundays, in particular, she cooks lunch and dinner for the 10 clients living in the seniors’ facility. She says gathering for meals is something they all look forward to.
“Sometimes we cook special things to make them happy,” says Lontoc, who has been a PSW for 10 years, eight of those at WoodGreen. She has worked as a PSW both in the community, visiting the homes of those in need of assistance, and one year ago switched to the assisted living facility.
'It’s in my heart'
Lontoc says that deep in her heart she has always felt a strong need to help other people. She believes this stems from her childhood growing up in the Philippines.
“I think because I was raised with a family where we didn't have a lot, I guess I appreciate it when people give their help.”
Since Lontoc immigrated to Canada 35 years ago, she says she has been unable to care for her own parents but feels better helping other people’s parents when she can.
“Because it’s in my heart. I care about the residents and their happiness.”
Reassuring distant families that she’s there to help
She admits that the bond between PSWs and their clients is incredibly unique, requiring a lot of patience and understanding.
“It is hard to lose patients and sometimes I couldn’t sleep,” says Lontoc, who explains that when patients pass away she usually has a cry, is thankful for the time she shared with them and then begins to help the next client as best she can.
After a decade as a PSW, Lontoc has helped many families like her own where relatives are spread across the globe.
“Many of the clients only have relatives who live far away,” she says. “Those families call and tell me they are so blessed to have found people like me to help care for their loved one.”
Lontoc says it means the world to her to know she has helped even one family know that their relative is not alone and that, if she has anything to do with it, they’ll keep gathering for her home-cooked meals as long as possible.
NINA CHOLAKOVA – PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKER
What’s the nicest thing anyone has said to you today? This week? Odds are pretty good that Nina Cholakova can top it.
“When they tell you, ‘I’ve been waiting for you’, ‘I miss you’, “You are like a daughter to me’...that makes you feel great.” This is what she hears from clients when she arrives for her visit as a Personal Support Worker.
Chalakova has spent eight years working as a PSW, with the last four of those years at WoodGreen. Her role is to step in to care for people who can no longer care for themselves. She says she loves her job and that she meets a wide variety of people with the most interesting life histories.
The majority of her clients are elderly, but Chalakova says with some, their minds are still very active and they are often intelligent, fascinating people with whom she shares great conversations. She says she finds neutral topics to discuss and that’s when the time flies by.
“You don’t feel like you’re going to work, you feel like you’re going to meet a friend.”
Experience helps ease transitions for seniors
Other clients, however, are coping with Alzheimer’s or Dementia and can become confused about why she is in their home. It is then that Cholakova calls upon her skills as an experienced PSW.
“When you visit for the first time it is the hardest,” she says, noting that it is essential to take extra time with such clients and never, ever rush them. “You need to get to know the person...you need a little time to form a professional relationship.”
Cholakova says that the relationship between a client and their PSW is a unique one.
“You spend a lot of time with these people, and sometimes you see them more than you see your own relatives.”
She says this can make it hard on a PSW if a client passes away, but that the families of those clients are always incredibly grateful for the care the PSW has provided.
Her experience does not go unnoticed or unappreciated by her own friends and family, however. On more than one occasion, friends have approached her to ask about how to deal with ageing family members of their own and if she can give them any advice or insight into what that person is experiencing as they age.
Cholakova says she thinks people have begun to recognise how important PSWs are and how they help keep many Canadians in their homes and with their families for much longer than they might otherwise. But she hopes her fellow PSWs realise how truly valued they are by the people who matter most; the clients.
“The words ‘thank you’...this is actually the biggest prize you can get in your life.”
LILIBETH DOINOG – PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKER
After 23 years as a caregiver, Lilibeth Doinog still remembers why she wanted to take on this profession in the first place.
“I love helping seniors. So I said to myself, why not do it for a job?”
Originally from the Philippines, Doinog spent part of her career working in Israel before coming to Canada and ultimately joining WoodGreen’s Personal Support Workers team 11 years ago. She has seen a lot in her decades of caring for those who can’t care for themselves. She’s also done just about everything you could ask of a PSW, and more. She cleans and cooks for clients, helping them with laundry and their own self-care needs. Doinog has dealt with clients who are happy to see her, and those who aren’t because they sometimes can’t remember why she is there to help. But still, she keeps working and helping as much as she can.
Doinog recalls one memorable moment with a client who had arrived from hospital but lacked even the basic things he would need to maintain independence at home.
“I was the first one who helped him,” she recalls. “I realised that without me he wouldn’t be able to drink or go to the bathroom. He had nothing; no food, no adult diapers, nothing.”
Unsure how the client would manage, Doinog reached out to her supervisors.
“WoodGreen told me to go and get him anything he needs. Imagine if he wasn’t at WoodGreen? Who would care for him?
Hearing thanks means a lot
Doinog goes above and beyond for those in her care and she says it can be hard on PSWs when a client, with whom they speak most days, eventually passes away. In those moments, she says she holds on to the positive moments with clients and their families.
“It means a lot when someone says thank you,” she smiles. “When they are happy, I am happy too.”
What Doinog says she didn’t realise 23 years ago when she began her journey as a PSW, is how her work would ultimately prepare her for her private life as well.
“Once you take care of somebody, then you will also know how to take care of your own family, because you will have done it before.”
After a life in service to others, Doinog says that she would encourage others to become a PSW, but to first ensure that you possess what she says are key to being a GOOD PSW: “You need to have passion, confidence, and the heart to do the job and most importantly, patience. “
Interested in learning how to become a PSW in Ontario? Visit here.
To find out about career opportunities at WoodGreen visit our Careers site.
ELENA PETINAS – PERSONAL SUPPORT WORKER
Growing up, Elena Petinas was surrounded by people caring for seniors in her community.
“Back home our parents live with us mostly,” says Petinas, who is originally from the Philippines. “We don’t really have nursing homes take care of our parents, we are the ones who take care of our parents.”
Petinas credits that upbringing with her passion for helping seniors or those who can’t look after themselves. Six years ago she began working as a Personal Support Worker and has been working with WoodGreen ever since.
She says she truly believes that those who choose to become Personal Support Workers need to be both passionate and dedicated to the work and the clients themselves. She says her motivation is simple; “if they’re happy, then I’m happy.”
While there are many professions that involve helping others, Petinas specifically sought out Personal Support Work for a very specific reason, one that relates to that upbringing in the Philippines.
“I can’t help my parents back home, so I did here what I should be doing for them. This is what I can’t give to my parents,” she says. “Maybe someone there will care for them the way I am caring for my patients here, with love and patience.”