Lynn Steele profile

Lynn Steele

While working with an MPP to tackle some of the biggest challenges in the caregiving sector, Canadian PSW Network founder Lynn Steele is urging PSWs all over Ontario to upgrade their skills for free with support from Contact North | Contact Nord.

“Many PSWs don’t qualify for student loans and many can’t leave their profession to go to school. It’s a real catch-22. I just keep pointing them to Contact North.”

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Personal Support Worker

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Advocate for PSWs sets her sights on transforming an industry

Lynn Steele is the kind of tenacious advocate every personal support worker should have in her corner.

PSWS are in the spotlight like never before, with a devastating pandemic having demonstrated that the essential tasks they perform each day must be valued and recognized.

Lynn knows how hard it is to provide indispensable care without accessible supports, especially in the long-term care homes and other congregate settings that have been devastated by COVID-19.

It’s what motivated her to build an organization with the experience and integrity to fight for those supports — and it all starts with education.

“I didn’t want to leave my field because I love what I do. Contact North explained all the options, and I was surprised to find out there was so much I could be learning.”

It’s also why she’s partnering with a local MPP in working toward an industry-wide reset.

One of Lynn’s most urgent priorities is to spread the word that Ontario PSWs can look to Contact North | Contact Nord as their own frontline support.

Her efforts are especially relevant now, given the Ontario government’s $115 million commitment to train up to 8,200 new PSWs for high-demand jobs in health and long-term care as part of an accelerated training program.

Free, online certificates

PSWs work in a variety of settings, including long-term care facilities, private homes, supportive housing and hospitals, and community programs and support services.

Through Contact North | Contact Nord, they can access free, online certificate courses from Ontario’s public colleges and other training providers to improve their skills at no cost. Contact North also helps with registrations.

Steele herself has completed 11 certificates, including end-of-life care, medical terminology, integrative mental health, gerontology, and infectious disease and control.

Ramping up skills and qualifications, she says, is a critical part of improving both the quality of care PSWs provide and the caregiving sector itself.

“Due to COVID and layoffs and everything else, I thought I would like to go back to school and upgrade my skills,” Lynn says. “I’m not able to lift and transfer safely because of a surgery I had two years ago but I didn’t want to leave my field because I love what I do. Contact North explained all the options, and I was surprised to find out there was so much I could be learning.

“With these courses, it was like, ‘Yes, one more!” It gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride, and a feeling you’re doing something better not just for yourself as a person but as a PSW providing care. It gives you a feeling of respecting yourself and having faith in your abilities. You’ve learned something you can actually put into practice.”

What Lynn gained with Contact North | Contact Nord’s support is now filtering through to others who also want to upgrade their knowledge and skills. But she knows there’s a long way to go to ensure PSWs get the resources they need and the recognition they deserve.

Selfless and committed

“PSWs have been proven to be some of the most selfless people in the healthcare industry,” says Lynn, herself a certified dementia care provider with 15 years’ experience. “They’ve really made a name for themselves with how much strength and resilience and unity they have shown.

“We’re working with the government right now on some issues that do need to be brought forward. PSWs want continuing education. They want to upgrade their skills. But many PSWs don’t qualify for student loans, and many can’t leave their profession to go to school. It’s a real catch-22. I just keep pointing them to Contact North.”

“With these courses, it was like, ‘Yes, one more!” It gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride, and a feeling that you’re doing something better not just for yourself as a person but as a PSW providing care.”

While she balances her own workload — a scheduling job, part-time PSW duties, managing the PSW network and taking care of her own family — Lynn is an inspiration for other PSWs dealing with the negativity, stress and uncertainty of the times.

In urging them to take advantage of education opportunities, she has a special message for those who might lack the confidence to return to learning.

“We are our own worst critic,” she says. “You’re stronger than you think. You’re smarter than you think. Have faith in yourself. There are so many resources available.”