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Five Familiar PSW Problems – Which One Do You Face?

5 most common problems faced by PSWs

Personal support workers have the unique opportunity of working in a career which makes it both challenging and rewarding.

With the country’s aging population making the healthcare industry increasingly complex, the need for front-line support workers is expected to increase significantly. Various studies have indicated the demand for PSWs is markedly higher than the supply available.

Various studies have indicated the demand for PSWs is markedly higher than the supply available.

Despite the high demand for workers, studies show that many are unwilling to enter the field. While all jobs have advantages and disadvantages, it is important to be aware of the

While all jobs have advantages and disadvantages, it is important to be aware of the Problems that are relevant in the industry if it’s a career you are considering.

This article examines five PSW problems that workers face.


Currently, there aren’t enough PSWs in Ontario resulting in chronic staff shortages, specifically in long-term care facilities.

With the staff-to-patient ratio being high, one PSW problem is meeting the demands required of them.

What stakeholders commonly refer to as an assembly line culture has developed over the past decade. 

According to the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, a whopping 91 percent of support workers polled reported that they felt they had too many patients to care for. A survey published by CBC News revealed that some respondents claimed to be responsible for as many as 40 residents in one shift.

Effect on PSWs/Patients
Pervasive staff shortages can have a significant impact on the retention of employees since PSWs are more likely to quit their jobs or leave the industry altogether if they have an unrealistically high workload.

Further, prospective support workers may choose not to pursue a PSW career if they are aware of the working conditions.

Effect on Patients

Patients who rely heavily on support workers in their homes are at risk of not receiving the quality care they require.

PSWs have reported that residents/patients have expressed anger and frustration due to the lack of time support workers are allotted to assist them with daily living tasks.

Possible Solution

  • The primary goal should be to raise staff levels to increase the amount of PSWs who enter or remain in the field.
  • If there aren’t enough PSWs in a particular long-term care home or hospital, there aren’t enough of them in the workforce.
  • Implement aggressive recruitment strategies and create more incentives for people to enter the field.

Efforts to Solve the Problem
As of today, no governmental plans or initiatives geared toward attracting and retaining PSWs in Ontario have been released to the public.


According to a 2007 Ryerson University survey of personal support workers, 65 percent of those polled were dissatisfied with the salary they were receiving. Further, until a new province-wide plan was implemented three years ago, PSWs earned as little as $12 hourly with many companies opting not to cover travel expenses for those working in private homes.

Further, until a new province-wide plan was implemented three years ago, PSWs earned as little as $12 hourly with many companies opting not to cover travel expenses for those working in private homes.

However, as of April 2016, a minimum hourly wage of $16.50 to a maximum of $19 per hour was imposed by the government.

Unfortunately, while the increase was beneficial, support workers are still being underpaid for the work that they perform.

Effect on PSWs
As low pay was cited as one of the main PSW problems, wages presumably have a negative impact on their standard of living. Many have to choose between working in a career that they derive fulfillment from and being able to adequately support their families.

As a result, fewer people will be inclined to enter or remain in the field on a long-term basis.

Effect on Patients
With PSWs being dissatisfied with their wages and a resultant decrease in some prospective support workers choosing to enter the field, patients are less likely to obtain the services they need.

Possible Solution

  • The government opting to implement policies that would raise the minimum salary of support workers.
  • Increase wages based on experience level.

Unlike other fields, PSWs do not receive pay based on the level of experience so many support workers leave the industry after an average of 20 years.

Efforts to Solve the Problem
There are currently no plans to increase the minimum wages of PSWs in Ontario.


Lack of transparency has also been cited as a major PSW problem in the province.

Currently, the government can provide only an estimate of the number of PSWs employed in Ontario since no one knows exactly who is working and where they are working.

The problem has been acknowledged by the province for several years resulting in a registry being created.

In 2012, a PSW registry was launched – boasting an annual budget of $2.5 million a year as of  2014/2015 and 30,000 PSWs listed, the initiative was hailed as an effective long-term solution. However, systemic challenges regarding inaccurate vetting procedures resulted in the registry being shut down only three years later.

Consequently, PSWs in Ontario are still working in a field that lacks transparency. 

Effect on PSWs
PSWs can feel as though they are undervalued due to working in the shadows. As a result, both the recruitment and retention of PSWs is at risk of being compromised.

Effect on Patients
Patient safety is paramount, and those that require the assistance of PSWs can be putting themselves at risk due to not being able to verify the background of the support workers they hire.

Possible Solutions:

  • Make improvements to previous version of registry
  • Relaunch the registry once it is user-friendly, useful, and accurate

Efforts to Solve the Problem
Currently, the Liberal government has not revealed plans to relaunch the registry to the public.


According to a recent survey, over 37 percent of PSWs polled are dissatisfied with the hours they are scheduled to work.

Although shifts including evenings, weekends, and holidays are typical for most healthcare positions, support workers have cited fluctuating hours as being one of the most significant disadvantages of being employed in the field.

Also, the wage increase policy that was recently implemented resulted in PSWs being scheduled for shorter shifts – some as short as 15 minutes.

Randy Hillier, MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington, recently stated, “What can you possibly do in 15 minutes? It’s a paperwork exercise. It’s not delivering home care.”

As a result, PSWs have seen their salaries reduced by as much as $10,000 annually in addition to their work hours becoming increasingly erratic.

In an article published by The Sun in August 2016, a PSW revealed that workers were effectively working without being paid:

“I work for free all the time. We do it because we love the clients. We need at least to pay our bills. We have to support our families.”

Effect on PSWs
PSWs cannot earn a living wage and are unable to enjoy financial security and stability when working in their chosen career.

Effect on Patients

Patients can be negatively impacted if fewer people are willing to work as PSWs, thereby reducing the amount of support they can receive about private home care.

Possible Solutions:

  • Workplace shifts/hours available for PSWs could be stabilized through governmental intervention.
  • While the issue cannot be resolved in the context of private home care, regulations geared toward ensuring that more full-time positions are offered could be a viable solution.

Efforts to Solve the Problem
The Ontario Personal Supporter Worker Association has received approximately 100 complaints over the past year, and The Ministry of Long-Term Care has been advised of the issue.

This PSW problem has also been raised by at least one Member of Parliament, and many stakeholders have called for action. However, there is no evidence that plans are being made to make workplace hours for PSWs more stable.


Recent polls reveal that 44 percent of the PSWs surveyed in Ontario are not satisfied with workplace conditions in private homes, long-term care facilities, and hospitals.

Over half of the support workers polled reported they had been the victim of some form of abuse with 24 percent of the cases being classified as physical violence.

With many residents/patients suffering from cognitive impairments, PSWs are often subjected to verbal or physical abuse when performing their duties.

Despite the prevalence of workplace violence, survey respondents indicated that management personnel are often unwilling to address incidents that occur, only doing so for approximately one-third of the cases reported.

Sexism has also contributed to poor workplace conditions for PSWs. Because the field has a high percentage of women, feminists have argued that the work they perform is not fully recognized due to the fact that caretaking is supposedly inherent to the female gender.

Additionally, racism has become a concern as visible minority groups comprise a large percentage of the PSW workforce in the province. Many have revealed that they are often treated unfairly by management due to racial biases.

Effect on PSWs

Poor working conditions can impede one’s ability to perform tasks effectively and potentially result in psychological challenges or physical injury when not addressed.

As PSWs are responsible for ensuring the safety of those they care for, it is crucial that workplace conditions are conducive to them meeting that objective.

Effect on Patients
Patients who require the assistance of support workers are often vulnerable and need PSWs to be in the best mental, emotional, and physical state possible to perform their duties.

Possible Solutions:

  • Improving workplace conditions for PSWs would require the effort of both the government and private sector
  • Developing an effective system for reporting workplace violence
  • Providing sensitivity training for personnel in management positions 

Efforts to Solve the Problem
Currently, no plan to address the problem has been made available to the public.

While working as a PSW offers satisfaction and fulfillment, you have to be prepared to face numerous challenges including workplace violence, unpredictable hours, and a relatively low pay rate.

While efforts have been made recently to address some of the issues raised, such as the minimum annual salary for PSWs, other issues are likely to remain unchanged in the foreseeable future.


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