Ottawa woman with MS back home today after PSW shortage keeps her in hospital for more than a year

An Ottawa woman is home tonight after spending a year and a half in hospital because of a shortage of personal support workers. Christine Benoit calls her homecoming her Christmas miracle.

The 44 year old who has MS has been healthy enough to come home for months - but there wasn’t anyone to care for her. A province wide shortage of PSW’s put her life on hold; Christine Benoit calls that a violation of her human rights.

It's a day that Christine Benoit feared would never come.

“Oh my God, I’m going home after a year and a half,” Christine Benoit said as hospital staff at Saint-Vincent Hospital helped pack her belongings.

Time after time she was discharged from Saint-Vincent, well enough to go back to her Kanata apartment, but not without at-home care.

“This is the worst ordeal of my whole life,” she says, “even considering getting the MS.”

Benoit went public with her story a month ago to highlight the critical shortage of personal support workers across this country.  According to the Champlain LHIN, the Local Health Integration Network, at least 11 other patients in Ottawa are in a similar situation, stuck in hospital.at considerable cost to the health care system and the patients.( According to the LHIN, the average cost of a complex continuing-care bed (at Bruyère) is $563/day. The average cost for a long-stay, home-care client who receives any service(s), not just PSS, is $891 per client, per month.)

Benoit says that media attention resulted in a call Christmas morning.

“Right early in the morning,” she says, “It was my Christmas miracle.”

Two agencies, -- Carefor and VHA, have teamed up with the local health network to help provide Christine the care she needs to come home.

She'll receive three visits a day, morning, evening and night, to allow her the independence she craves.

While there's a province-wide shortage of personal support workers, there are many who are under-employed.  They're men, unable to get jobs in a sector where clients prefer women. One home care organization, VHA, says probably 15% of the PSW workforce is male and half the clients, too.  Still,

"The preference is for women in health care," says Valerie  Bishop De Young with VHA, “We're stuck with male (PSW’s) who are very qualified who can't get enough hours."

Peter Dunnigan is one of those PSW's, with 10 years of experience, unable to get full time hours.

“We are here, and we want to work,” he says, “and we're not getting the work based on gender and that basically is sexism.”

Dunnigan actually visited Benoit in the hospital.  For her, gender isn't an issue.

“Right about now,” I would have taken Big Bird himself,” she jokes.

Benoit says her fight isn't over; she's considering a human rights suit, once the shock of being back home wears off.

“I never thought this was going to happen,” she says, choking back tear, “Finally.”

Despite her soft-spoken manner, Benoit knows she's a fighter and is looking at using the experience she's gained during her journey to be a voice for others.