Last week I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Karen Horsman of CBC radio on the topic of the government’s decision not to regulate Personal Support Workers. Here’s an overview of our discussion;
Karen asked me to speculate on the reasons that the decision was made not to regulate and why I thought it had turned out that way.
We know that regulation is seen as a positive measure to assure public safety and a high standard of practice from our health professionals. Nurses, dentists, doctors, physiotherapists are all regulated health care professionals. Personal Support Workers interact with a vulnerable sector of the public and it would stand to reason that their practice be regulated.
There are a couple of reasons that come to mind as possibly contributing to the decision not to regulate Personal Support Workers.
1. The sheer number. There are apparently 100,000 PSWs who have now graduated from either a College or vocational school program. To wrangle that many individuals and attempt to regulate their practice could prove to be a logistical nightmare.
2. There would be a large price tag attached to the creation of a new regulatory body, the development of a set of standards of practice and education, an enrollment procedure for the current practitioners and the development of leadership and committees to oversee the practice of current and future Personal Support Workers.
3. A lack of recognition for the value of the role. It may be that the decision makers undervalue the work of the Personal Support Worker. Certainly any one of us who has needed the care of a PSW for ourselves or for a loved one, can attest to the value of their work.
One comment made was that the Personal Support Worker does not have a distinct body of knowledge to call their own and therefore should not be recognized and regulated as a profession. However, Personal Support Workers have a valuable role in our health care system. They do graduate from a course of study set out by the Ministry of Education and they write a standardized exam in order to become “certified”.
So, what to do?
We need to recognize the skills and contributions of the Personal Support Workers as a necessary part in the care of seniors. We already see the value of regulation for health care professionals and the PSW must be recognized as a valued newcomer to this group. All 100,000 existing title holders do not have to be regulated tomorrow. A 5 or 7 year plan to reach all existing practitioners is a realistic one. But for the very same reasons that we see value in the regulation of other health care practitioners; to set standards of practice; to protect the public; to standardize education; and to provide leadership and discipline even, we must begin the process of recognizing and regulating this group.