'Get more help out here, please': Southwestern Ont. rural communities hard hit by PSW shortage

A shortage of personal support workers is causing challenges for those in some rural southwestern Ontario communities to access supports.

Mitchell, Ont. resident Tricia Horan, who is wheelchair bound, said she's been searching for a PSW for six months to no avail.

"I've been very sick on and off, so I need help with daily living activities," she said. "I've had a few people message me and then they don't show up."

Horan said cost is usually the biggest hurdle in finding a PSW.

"I think they need to be paid more. Like people have contacted me, they said, 'well, we charge $25 an hour,' and it's like I can only pay you maximum $19," she explained.

According to Home and Community Care Support Services South West (formerly the LHIN), there is a shortage of PSWs across the province.

"The needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and an overall reduction in the available of Personal Support Workers (PSWs) has intensified this issue," Health Ontario said in a statement.

Owner of Nurse Next Door Stratford Lisa Willen said being a caregiver is back-breaking work, adding the wages don’t support the labour.

"They do not get specific hours, there's never any guaranteed hours," she said. "It could be too that many caregivers are leaving the industry because you cannot live on casual, what-if hours."

Willen said the shortage has been an ongoing issue, adding rural areas have been hit the hardest.

"People to go out into the country to be sent 25 minutes or half an hour for a 15-minute visit, who were not paid for the mileage, they're not going to find caregivers to do that," she said.

"Just get more help out here, please," Horan said. "Get more money, get more hours."

Home and Community Care Support Services South West said they are working to address the shortage by prioritizing care for those with the most complex needs.

There's also a temporary wage increase of $3 per hour for workers, bringing the pay up to just above $20 an hour for home care PSWs, a staffing study released by the province shows.