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Regulate personal support workers: Popovic-Montag

A spate of recent abuse allegations shows the need for regulation of personal support workers (PSWs), says Toronto estates and trusts lawyer Suzana Popovic-Montag.

The Ottawa Citizen recently reported on the case of a local PSW caught on camera punching an 89-year-old man in his care who suffers from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The carer pleaded guilty to assault but the newspaper exposed doubts in the industry about whether convictions for assault will necessarily bar workers from returning to similar roles after serving their sentences.

“I think there needs to be more regulation, especially because more and more people are going to become dependent on these sorts of workers in the future,” Popovic-Montag, managing partner of Hull & Hull LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com. “It will add accountability.”

PSWs take a months-long course to become accredited, but have no professional body responsible for regulating and disciplining members.

Miranda Ferrier, president of the Ontario Personal Support Worker Association (OPSWA), told the Citizen that while judges warn a conviction will ruin the career of a defendant, in reality, “there is no follow up.”

“In a situation like this, if this PSW were a member of a governing body, we could implement an investigation and make sure he could never work as a PSW again. It’s the only way to protect the public,” she added. 

Ferrier said her members go through third-party screening and must clear a criminal background check before being admitted to the OPSWA, but her organization only represents around one fifth of the province’s 135,000 PSWs.

According to the Citizen, a former registry of Ontario’s PSWs folded in 2016 following a review that cast doubt on its ability to get adequate information into the hands of employers and the public, but no date has been set for a replacement.

The male carer in the Ottawa case was caught after the elderly resident’s family installed a camera in his room at the city-run retirement facility where he was living. A film showed the PSW punching him 11 times in the face. A sentencing hearing for the assault is due later in 2017.  

“It’s a terrible situation, made even more egregious by the position of trust that the PSW is in,” Popovic-Montag says. “People are living longer, which means it’s more likely they will be put into these situations where they are left at the mercy of the system. It will give the whole regime more credibility if PSWs are better regulated.”

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