NE LHIN funds PSW training in coastal communities

Three proud graduates if PSW training. “You can’t take an elder away from their home and community. It’s heart wrenching.” – Heather Cranney, First Nations Community Health Development Lead with the Canadian Red Cross

Featured in the Spring 2018 issue

BY TERESA PAGNUTTI
James Bay coastal communities welcomed four new personal support workers (PSW) from Attawapiskat in October. In total, 27 PSWs have graduated from a customized training program delivered by the Red Cross and funded by the North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).
Launched in 2014, the program is focused on addressing the challenge of caring for seniors in the region through culturally appropriate personal support worker training. The Indigenous communities of Kashechewan, Fort Albany and Attawapiskat along the coast are accessible only by air or ice roads.
“It’s like being a mama bear,” said Heather Cranney, First Nations Community Health Development Lead with the Canadian Red Cross. “When I see a personal support worker who has had other struggles in life make it through (the program), for me, their sense of self and pride is the big takeaway,” said Cranney, who was instrumental in establishing the program.
“To develop the program, we took the basic personal support worker role and added to it, depending on the needs of the community,” said Cranney. “Often, the PSWs are the first set of eyes (on seniors).”
Students learn how to identify and manage situations that might involve violence, abuse and mental health issues. In the past, PSWs in the program were trained to support Kashechewan evacuees during spring floods with the classroom serving as an evacuation staging area. Students have also had specialized diabetes foot-care training as an identified need.
“We’ve done sessions with the groups to become sensitive about residential schooling and we bring in a specialized educator who works privately with the students,” she said. “They are asked to recognize that elders are still impacted by the trauma of residential schools and the fact that inter-generational trauma exists.”
Traditional practices and teaching are weaved into the curriculum based on guidance and counsel from students, elders and the community at large. “Sometimes, they will just tell us, it’s not how we do it,” said Cranney.
A component of the program also focuses on pharmacology and traditional medicine. “We train workers to ask what medication someone is on and what are the other things that people are taking,” said Cranney. “A senior might not tell you that they are using cedar root to help the pain. Foxglove, for example, is digitalis. They need to be aware that much of our own (modern) medicine comes from the ground.”
PSW trainees range in age from 19 to their 60s and are diverse. “Sometimes, they haven’t been back to school for a long time. Sometimes, English isn’t their first language,” said Cranney.
The teaching approach in the classroom is typically face-to-face with reliance on videos and Facebook to share information and updates, but it is also inventive and accommodating. Mothers can bring their children to school, if necessary. A Cree medical dictionary and a Jeopardy game using Cree were developed for students.
Theresa Mattinas, 34, is one of Attawapiskat’s recent PSW graduates. She now works full time for the Home and Community Care Program offered through the Attawapiskat Health Centre and casually at the local hospital.
The mother of four children (ages eight to18) was a stay-at-home mom until last year when she saw a recruitment poster. “I thought of my late granny Theresa and just started thinking about elders. It was time for me to do something for myself,” said Mattinas.
When not working, Mattinas is busy taking her kids to hockey practice and tournaments. She also volunteers as a coach and is interested in taking more training, specifically in heavy equipment and carpentry.
Developing new skills and getting more training is a positive outcome of the program. At least two PSW graduates have gone on to train as nurses and one as a paramedic, said Cranney.
Retaining skilled workers in their communities helps to keep seniors at home longer. “You can’t take an elder away from their home and community,” said Cranney. “It’s heart wrenching.”
Each program session is evaluated to identify new learnings and emerging community needs. A start date for the next PSW course has not yet been announced.

Filed in: All Content, Education, Featured, First Nations, News

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