Coastal community students graduate from PSW course

More than 20 personal support worker (PSW) students from First Nation communities along the James Bay coast flew to Sudbury last spring for specialized diabetes foot-care training. The North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) supported their participation in this key learning opportunity.

James Bay First Nation communities will be welcoming 22 personal support worker graduates from their communities this summer. The graduates are the first class to complete a 27-week culturally appropriate personal support worker program.

The North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) invested in the program to address the ongoing challenge of seniors care in the coastal communities.

Partnering on curriculum development were the Red Cross, the Moose Cree Education Authority, Mushkegowuk Employment and Training Services, the Moose Cree First Nation, the Peetabeck Education Authority, Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, the Fort Albany First Nation and Northern College.

The full-time program was launched in February 2014 and offered to the Moose Cree and Fort Albany First Nations. A teacher was hired to provide face-to-face education and students were provided ongoing mentorship while they were studying and practising their skills.

Heather Cranney, First Nations’ Communities Health Development Lead for the Red Cross, was instrumental in developing and delivering the training. A former manager of the Timmins and District Branch of the Canadian Red Cross, Cranney has worked extensively with the coastal communities.

“I was able to support the students and to assess why they were dropping out. I spent time talking with them to make sure they had all the resources they needed – like uniforms shipped in a timely manner,” said Cranney. “It is a bit of a mother hen job, and required a lot of hand holding, but we helped to create a community of students supporting students.”

The elders in the community were worried that their children and grandchildren going outside of the communities for training would not want to return. It was a big challenge to develop a program that would keep them in the community close to their children, families and community.

The unique design was to teach one course at a time rather than teaching five courses spread out over the week.

A student staying home with a sick child would only miss that week rather than five subjects. Everything possible was done to encourage them to remain in the program.

“This delivery system allows us to work with the patterns of life in small Northern communities,” explained Cranney. “We are respectful of the cultural breaks that occur. Recently, for example, we allowed students to participate in the hunt with their families”

The recent evacuation from Kashechewan had the Fort Albany students help organize a classroom to make space for the evacuees. The students were able to participate in the evacuation in a proactive way, while also having the opportunity to demonstrate their connection to the community.

A bonus for the students was being able to attend a regional diabetes foot care workshop held in Sudbury. Foot care is an essential part of the care that personal support workers offer, and a serious health-care issue in First Nations communities. Twenty-five per cent of people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer during their lifetime, which puts them at a higher risk for amputation.

More than 120 health-care workers from across northeastern Ontario attended the workshop, providing a venue for the James Bay students to connect with others in their field. The LHIN and its partners are assessing the number of students needed each year to provide the required PSW services in the coastal communities.

“We need to be poised and ready with personal support workers in order to meet the future needs of the communities,” said Carol Philbin-Jolette, senior officer for the LHIN. “It is hard to retain nurses, so a lot of these communities have fly-in nurses who come in and out regularly. What can be a stabilizing factor in each of these communities are PSWs. They are the ones who are going into people’s homes to provide care. What we are doing is giving them the core training based on the community’s needs.”

The training has provided the opportunity for graduates to work in different health-care settings, including hospitals.

When Philbin-Jolette made a visit to the area in February, she noticed how proud the students were about their accomplishments. “As part of the course curriculum, each student is suited with a uniform, shoes and stethoscope,” she said. “It was great to see the pride and joy in their eyes. The program has only been going for six months but the results have been phenomenal.”

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