Instructor predicts training program’s partnership with Country Haven ‘will only grow’

Anita Plunkett also sees opportunities to strengthen the collaboration

When asked what the future looks like for the partnership the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario’s (CDSBEO’s) personal support worker (PSW) training program has with Almonte Country Haven, Anita Plunkett doesn’t hesitate in her reply.

“I think it will only grow,” Plunkett, an instructor and clinical supervisor with the training program, tells The OMNIway.

In October, Debbie Burke and Rebecca Smith became the first Almonte Country Haven team members to graduate from the partnership program.

In February, four more Almonte Country Haven team members – Tiffany Brydge, Sheila Warren, Rebekah Lafontaine and Tracie Boyd – completed their PSW training.

Three students are enrolled in the program for this semester and people have been signing up for the September intake.

The partnership between the Lanark County long-term care home and the program removes financial barriers for students and secures positions at Country Haven when they graduate – key benefits that make the program attractive for those looking to start a new career, Plunkett says.

The CDSBEO offers a PSW training program at a comparatively low cost. The CDSBEO has partnered with the Canadian Career Academy to cover a portion of students’ tuition through the Canada-Ontario Job Grant.

Students are also permitted to earn money while completing their work placement hours.

As part of the CDSBEO’s partnership with Almonte Country Haven, which began in early 2020, students who are doing their placement at the home also have the remaining portion of their tuition covered through OMNI Health Care’s bursary program and are given a job upon graduation.

Plunkett says she sees possible opportunities to strengthen the collaboration.

With many Ontario long-term care homes receiving redevelopment funding – including Almonte Country Haven, where work is well underway to expand the home from 82 beds to 96 – Plunkett says she hopes there are opportunities ahead to enhance PSW training inside the more spacious homes.

For example, living classrooms, where students engage in interactive learning with their instructors, long-term-care home residents and staff, are becoming popular.

Living classrooms, Plunkett says, would be ideal for everyone involved in the partnership program.

“The home gets to see the students in action, and they can pick who they want as employees, and the students get the advantage of being right in the home to do their training, which is fantastic,” she says.

– This is Part 4 of a four-part story series

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Country Haven-CDSBEO partnership provides incentives to attract and retain PSWs

Students in CDSBEO PSW program have their tuition covered, receive paid training at Almonte Country Haven and are offered jobs at the home after graduating

Given our growing aging population and need for more front-line workers in the long-term care sector, an education/job-placement partnership like the one Almonte Country Haven has with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) is important to helping the long-term care sector attract and retain personal support workers (PSWs), says Anita Plunkett.

Plunkett, an instructor and clinical supervisor with the CDSBEO’s PSW training program, says a major benefit the partnership has is that students are able to earn money when they do their job placement at Almonte Country Haven and are promised a job at the Lanark County long-term care home after completing their training.

The CDSBEO offers a PSW training program at a comparatively low cost. The CDSBEO has partnered with the Canadian Career Academy to cover a portion of students’ tuition through the Canada-Ontario Job Grant. Students are also permitted to earn money while completing their work placement hours.

As part of the CDSBEO’s partnership with the home, students who are doing their placement at Almonte Country Haven also have the remaining portion of their tuition covered through OMNI Health Care’s bursary program and are given a job upon graduation.

“Our program tends to have more mature students (who) have families; they might have aging parents they’re taking care of, and sometimes they’re a single parent,” Plunkett explains.

“Some of those barriers to obtaining PSW certification are removed (for students in the partnership program), and they are earning an income while they are in the program.”

Plunkett adds that the partnership is also beneficial because Almonte Country Haven is in a rural community, and it is often challenging for rural health-care providers to attract workers because they don’t have the population.

“So this partnership, where they have the training fees paid for and where they can work while going to school and earning an income, can be an attractive package for people,” Plunkett says.

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Support from Country Haven has helped PSW training partnership thrive: instructor

The instructor for a personal support worker (PSW) training program that’s partnered with Almonte Country Haven says the strong support shown by the Lanark County long-term care home’s management team is a positive sign the collaboration will be long-standing.

Anita Plunkett, who trains students to become PSWs in a program offered by the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO), says restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic mean she can’t visit the home to evaluate students doing their fieldwork.

But the Almonte Country Haven management team has stepped up and supervised students and assessed their skill sets, and there has been constant communication with Plunkett throughout the pandemic.

Plunkett says she cannot stress how important this has been.

“When students come through our program and are hired at Almonte Country Haven, the home has been so supportive of the students to make sure that the DOC (director of care), the registered staff, or a combination, are helping to evaluate the students to ensure they meet the PSW training standards,” Plunkett tells The OMNIway.

“I still do parking-lot visits and virtual visits with the students to support them in any way, so there is constant communication. But without the support the home has (provided), I don’t think it would be as successful as it has been.”

The CDSBEO offers the PSW training program at a comparatively low cost. The CDSBEO has partnered with the Canadian Career Academy to cover a portion of students’ tuition through the Canada-Ontario Job Grant. Students are also permitted to earn money while completing their work placement hours.

As part of the CDSBEO’s partnership with the home, students who are doing their placement at Almonte Country Haven have the remaining portion of their tuition covered through OMNI Health Care’s bursary program and are given a job once they complete their training.

Plunkett says the fact that students can earn money while they do their placement and have jobs waiting for them once they complete the program is another important factor that will help make the arrangement a viable, long-term partnership.

“The students really appreciate the ability to be in the training program while they’re working because they get to apply their knowledge and skills right away and in a timely fashion,” she says.

– This is Part 2 of a four-part story

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Unique partnership between Country Haven and CDSBEO is attracting needed PSWs to LTC

Instructor Anita Plunkett commends the ‘win-win’ collaboration

A partnership between Almonte Country Haven and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) is bringing much-needed personal support workers (PSWs) to the long-term care sector.

To date, six Almonte Country Haven PSWs have graduated from a PSW training program offered by CDSBEO and three more people who are doing their training through the partnership are enrolled this semester. That spells good news for long-term care in the local community, says CDSBEO PSW program instructor Anita Plunkett.

Since early 2020, Almonte Country Haven has participated in the PSW training program offered CDSBEO and supported by the Canadian Career Academy (CCA), an employment agency.

The CDSBEO offers the PSW training program at a comparatively low cost. The CCA has partnered with CDSBEO to cover a portion of students’ tuition through the Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG). Students are also permitted to earn money while completing their work placement hours.

Students who are doing their placement at Almonte Country Haven, an 82-bed long-term care home in Lanark County, have the remaining portion of their tuition covered through OMNI Health Care’s bursary program.

“When we first started (the partnership) there was a uniqueness in that, at the time, (the CDSBEO) had not really connected with a home where the home was hiring students while they were in training and connecting them with the Canada-Ontario Job Grant,” Plunkett tells The OMNIway.

“We had not developed that type of relationship with (a long-term care home) up until that point.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Plunkett says there has been a “huge focus on long-term care and the work that PSWs do,” and this makes the Country Haven-CDSBEO partnership timely.

Plunkett says the school board has since connected with other long-term care homes and home-care agencies in the region to help them attract and provide people with PSW training.

The seeds of the collaboration were planted when Almonte Country Haven contacted Plunkett to see if any students in the PSW program were interested in doing a placement at the home.

From there, the CCA was contacted to work out a deal where the employment agency would cover a portion of the students’ tuition through the COJG.

“It’s a three-way connection to get people trained and working at Almonte Country Haven,” Plunkett says.

“Almonte Country Haven is looking for employees, and we can provide the training, so it’s a win-win on both sides.”

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PSW reflects on career change that brought her to Almonte Country Haven

‘I absolutely love it here,’ says Tracie Boyd

After the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to Tracie Boyd’s 25-year career as a daycare provider, she was ready to embark on a career working in long-term care.

Even before the pandemic, Tracie says she had been considering a new career in long-term care. When she saw an advertisement for a personal support worker (PSW) training program provided by the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO), she decided to take a step towards starting a second career.

During her first day of training last September, Tracie met three Almonte Country Haven team members: Tiffany Brydge, Rebekah Lafontaine and Sheila Warren.

They explained to her that Almonte Country Haven was involved with a partnership with CDSBEO and that if she was interested in working at the Lanark County long-term care home, she would be paid for her on-the-job training and promised a position at Country Haven upon completing the course.

The PSW training program is supported by the Canadian Career Academy (CCA). The CCA covers a portion of the program’s tuition fees. Students who are doing their placement at Almonte Country Haven have the remainder of their tuition paid for through OMNI Health Care’s bursary fund.

Tracie took the opportunity. She graduated from the PSW program in February and says she has not looked back on her decision.

“I absolutely love it here,” Tracie says of working at Almonte Country Haven.

“Everybody has been so good to me. The residents are great and all the employees and managers are great. They are very family-oriented.”

Tracie adds that the PSW training program was well-rounded, informative and she would recommend it to anyone considering a career as a PSW.

Administrator Carolyn Della Foresta says Tracie has been an outstanding member of the Almonte Country Haven team who has “found her passion and her calling” working in long-term care.

Carolyn adds that one of Tracie’s key strengths is her ability to provide residents with supportive measures, and that she would make an excellent member of the home’s Behavioural Supports Ontario (BSO) team.

“She has a gentle spirit and has such a calming influence on residents,” Carolyn says.

“Tracie is somebody who I would love to see pursue further behavioural support work and training because I think she would be an amazing addition to the (BSO team) that we have in the home.”

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Country Haven PSW says the pandemic cemented her career path

‘I felt that being a PSW was literally my passion,’ says Tiffany Brydge

Tiffany Brydge had been working as a care assistant worker at Almonte Country Haven for two months when a COVID-19 outbreak was declared March 29, 2020, at the Lanark County long-term care home.

When the outbreak began, Tiffany says she knew that becoming a personal support worker (PSW) was her calling.

She had already signed up for the September intake of a PSW training program offered through the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) and supported by the Canadian Career Academy (CCA), but seeing the difference front-line workers made to residents during this challenging time cemented her decision.

“I felt that being a PSW was literally my passion, and I felt that I had finally found my passion when I came to work (at Almonte Country Haven) when we were going through the outbreak,” Tiffany tells The OMNIway.

Tiffany was on Facebook 14 months ago when she saw an ad from the Canadian Career Academy (CCA) about an opportunity to enrol in a PSW training program through the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO).

The training program is offered to students at a comparatively low cost. The CCA covers a portion of the program’s tuition fees and allows students to earn money while doing their work placements.

For prospective students like Tiffany who were already working at Almonte Country Haven or who wanted to do a placement at the home, OMNI Health Care covers the remainder of the tuition costs through its bursary program.

“I haven’t looked back since,” says Tiffany, who worked in the retail sector for 22 years before deciding on a career as a PSW.

Almonte Country Haven administrator Carolyn Della Foresta says Tiffany has “shone” as PSW at the home.

Carolyn remembers the day during the outbreak when Tiffany told her she was convinced she made the right decision to become a PSW.

“She said, ‘I’ve found my purpose in life. I’ve now found my passion and my purpose and it’s to work as a PSW and to help these residents,’ ” Carolyn says.

Carolyn adds that Tiffany is resident-focused, and whenever she has a spare moment, she will find something to do with residents, such as accompanying them outside to fill the bird feeders.

Tiffany, who graduated from the PSW training program in February, commends the course as an excellent resource for people considering a rewarding career as a PSW.

“I absolutely loved it and I’m so happy that I came across this opportunity,” she says.

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Photo caption: Four Almonte Country Haven team members recently graduated from a PSW training program the home is involved with through a partnership with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. Pictured left to right, Tiffany Brydge, Sheila Warren, Rebekah Lafontaine and Tracie Boyd.

Almonte PSW grad found training program so rewarding she recommended it to her husband

Rebekah Lafontaine graduated from the CDSBEO’s PSW program in February. Her husband is enrolled for the September intake

Rebekah Lafontaine has found her role as a personal support worker (PSW) at Almonte Country Haven so enriching she has recommended the training program she recently graduated from to her husband, who is now signed up for the September intake.

Rebekah began working as a care aide at the Lanark County long-term care home shortly after a three-month outbreak of the COVID-19 virus ended in late June of last year.

She already had a friend who was working as a care aide at Country Haven who recommended Rebekah apply for the position.

“My heart just broke and I wanted to help,” Rebekah tells The OMNIway.

She found her work as a care aide so rewarding she enrolled in a PSW training program the home is involved with through the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO).

But inspiration was also coming to Rebekah from another source: her grandmother.

“My grandmother had worked in long-term care for many years, and I had always looked up to her, so I gave it a try and I fell in love with it,” Rebekah says.

Rebekah, who graduated from the program in February, recommended her husband, Shawn, apply for a position as a care aide and consider taking the PSW program as well.

Shawn found he enjoyed working at Almonte Country Haven as much as Rebekah and he will be starting his PSW training in September.

“I told my husband about how happy I was and how happy I think it would make him, and it turns out I was right,” Rebekah says.

The PSW training program, which is supported by the Canadian Career Academy (CCA), is offered to students at a comparatively low cost. The CCA covers a portion of the program’s tuition fees and allows students to earn money while doing their work placements.

Students who are doing their placement at Almonte Country Haven have the remainder of their tuition paid for through OMNI Health Care’s bursary fund, and they have a PSW position waiting for them once they complete training.

Rebekah says she has not looked back on her decision, adding she enjoys coming to work every day because of the difference PSWs make in residents’ lives.

“There is so much to learn and grow,” she adds.

Almonte Country Haven administrator Carolyn Della Foresta says Rebekah is “one of the most gentle spirits I have ever met in my life” and is well suited for her work.

“She wants to excel and she takes every opportunity to learn,” Carolyn says. “She is so passionate about her work.”

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Community kindness: Local couple donates A/C units and fans to Country Haven, but the home ended up with much more

‘This is a story of one raindrop falling but having an incredible ripple effect’

Paul and Lee Brennae were at home in Almonte, Ont. last year watching a TV news story about how many older long-term care homes in the province do not have air conditioning, and this gave the couple an idea.

One of those homes without air conditioning was Almonte Country Haven, which had also been affected by a three-month COVID-19 outbreak, and the couple decided right then to help.

Knowing the hot, humid days of summer were just around the corner, the Brennaes decided to buy two air-conditioning units and two large fans for Almonte Country Haven to help keep residents cool and comfortable when temperatures began to rise.

Paul contacted Almonte Country Haven administrator Carolyn Della Foresta to let her know of the couple’s intentions.

Carolyn thanked the Brennaes for their kind offer, and Paul went ahead and ordered the air-conditioning units and fans through the Lowe’s Canada website.

But when the items arrived there was only one fan, so Paul made some phone calls letting Lowe’s know they were one fan short on their delivery.

Eventually, Paul talked with a representative from Lowe’s executive customer service department who said the fan was misplaced, which explained the delay, so to make up for the error Lowe’s offered to ship an extra fan at no cost.

In the end, Almonte Country Haven received two air-conditioning units and three fans, and Carolyn and the residents were grateful to the Brennaes and Lowe’s for their kind gestures.

“Paul and Lee reached out in this incredibly kind and tangible way, and these air conditioners and fans are just amazing,” Carolyn tells The OMNIway.

“What was so amazing to me is that this couple in the community had no personal connection with the home, (but) they knew about what we were going through (with the outbreak) and they were touched by our story and they wanted to reach out with an act of kindness.”

But the story doesn’t end here.

When Lowe’s learned from Paul the items were for Almonte Country Haven, the company wanted to do something extra for residents.

“They said they really liked what we were doing, so we were contacted by the company president’s executive assistant who said (Lowe’s) wanted to do more, so they asked what else (Almonte Country Haven) needed,” Paul says.

Paul let Carolyn know about Lowe’s offer, and Carolyn asked members of the home’s residents’ council what they would like from the company catalogue.

Looking ahead to the summer of 2021, the residents said new outdoor furniture to replace the older furniture would be great for outdoor visits and summer picnics.

In October, Carolyn was invited by Lowe’s to send an e-mail outlining residents’ request, which she did, along with an accompanying thank-you letter.

She relayed residents’ request for new outdoor furniture, and Lowe’s responded by sending a $2,000 gift card.

The Almonte Country Haven team will be using the card soon to buy residents their new outdoor furniture.

Looking back, Paul notes how the chain of events leading up to Almonte Country Haven receiving an extra fan and then a $2,000 Lowe’s gift card was unexpected.

“Initially, I just wanted to know where the fan was,” he chuckles.

Carolyn says she’s touched by the kindness and generosity the Brennae’s and Lowe’s have shown for Almonte Country Haven residents.

“This is a story of one raindrop falling but having an incredible ripple effect,” she says.

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How COVID-19 prompted a dietary staff member to become a PSW

Sheila Warren had worked in the kitchen at Almonte Country Haven for 29 years, but when an outbreak began in March 2020, she decided to make a career change

Sheila Warren had worked in the nutritional care department at Almonte Country Haven for 29 years when a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Lanark County long-term care home on March 29, 2020.

Knowing front-line team members would need additional help caring for residents, and having previous health-care aide training, Sheila approached administrator Carolyn Della Foresta and asked to switch duties so she could work on the floor to help the personal support workers (PSWs).

Carolyn accommodated Sheila’s request and immediately noticed Sheila had a natural gift for PSW work. In fact, Carolyn, along with other Country Haven team members, thought caregiving may truly be Sheila’s calling.

Managers, PSWs and nurses suggested Sheila take PSW training and change job roles at Almonte Country Haven.

“As a management group, we saw that Sheila was amazing (working on the floor), she was meant to work hands-on,” Carolyn tells The OMNIway.

“We saw that Sheila shone outside of the dietary department working hands-on for her entire shift with the residents.”

There was also a perfect opportunity waiting for Sheila: Almonte Country Haven had recently entered a partnership with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) through a PSW training program the school board offers.

The training program, which is supported by the Canadian Career Academy (CCA), is offered to students at a comparatively low cost. The CCA covers a portion of the program’s tuition fees and allows students to earn money while doing their work placements.

For people like Sheila doing their placement at Country Haven, OMNI Health Care covers the remainder of the tuition costs through its bursary program.

Sheila decided to consider the offer, but before making a final decision, she wanted to consult with one more person: her mother who, coincidentally, had been a caregiver at Almonte Country Haven.

“I thought long and hard about it and talked to my mum, and my mum was the icing on the cake for my decision to take the PSW course,” Sheila says.

“She basically said you are your mother’s daughter and you will be fantastic at it.”

Sheila completed the training program and is now a full-time PSW at Almonte Country Haven. Sheila says she has not looked back on her decision.

“I love it immensely,” she says of her new position.

Sheila also has words of praise for the PSW program offered by CDSBEO.

“It was very informative,” she says of the program, adding her neighbour recently expressed interest in signing up for the training. “Between doing the course, working and taking care of everything at home, my schedule was full, but it was a very informative program.”

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Photo caption: Four Almonte Country Haven team members recently graduated from a PSW training program the home is involved with through a partnership with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. Pictured left to right, Tiffany Brydge, Sheila Warren, Rebekah Lafontaine and Tracie Boyd.

Work-life balance has made Almonte Country Haven an ideal workplace, says DOC

‘I look forward to coming to work every morning’

When Susan Abernethy interviewed for the director of care (DOC) position at Almonte Country Haven last autumn, one of the first things explained to her was the importance OMNI Health Care places on work-life balance.

After more than 30 years of working as a nurse in hospitals, largely in emergency rooms, Susan says this was music to her ears.

“When I first spoke with OMNI for my interview and they said that work-life balance was one of the most important values, I almost fell out of my chair, because this is not the atmosphere in an acute-care hospital,” Susan tells The OMNIway.

Susan, who was awarded the DOC position at the Lanark County long-term care home in November, says she has found the promise of work-life balance to be “very refreshing and real.”

In hospital settings, nurses and other staff members often find themselves working 12-hour shifts. When Susan was a hospital nurse, she says she found her days off to be spent “recuperating rather than relaxing,” so the change has been welcomed.

Since becoming DOC at Almonte Country Haven, Susan says she has been enjoying the work-life balance OMNI promised. This, she says, has helped her enjoy her work and thrive in the DOC role.

“I look forward to coming to work every morning,” she says. “The days go by so quickly, which says to me that I am enjoying it, and there’s enough work that I am a ‘good busy,’ not a ‘stressed busy.’

“It is lovely to go home and sleep every night and to live a routine life – I had forgotten how good this life can be.”

Combined with the work-life balance, Susan says she has also found a strong “team approach” to resident care at Almonte Country Haven. Staff members, she says, are resident-centred and everyone works together to provide residents with the best quality of life possible.

“The management team here is a very well-oiled machine and they are an amazing team to work with,” she says. “I consider myself fortunate to be working here.”

– This is Part 2 of a two-part story

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