Young woman tending to old man in wheelchair
The Michener Institute of Education at UHN is among the designers of education modules for people recruited to work as a Resident Care Aide in long-term care homes as part of the Ontario Workforce Reserve for Senior Support program. (Photo: iStock)

The pandemic has pushed the long-term care sector into crisis. Staffing challenges, always an issue in long-term care homes, have been amplified by COVID-19.

Fortunately, the Government of Ontario is working to fill this gap by bringing in more hands to care for residents – and The Michener Institute of Education at UHN is playing a role, helping design learning modules on working with seniors for the new recruits.

The Ontario Workforce Reserve for Senior Support (OWRSS) is a new program focused on recruiting, training and deploying people as Resident Support Aides (RSA) to work in long-term care homes during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These RSAs will help residents with daily living activities, including support during mealtimes and assistance with technology and recreation activities, which will allow more experienced long-term care workers to focus on the care of residents.

The new recruits will be used in the Greater Toronto Area, Peel Region and Ottawa, areas in the province where the need is most critical.

To help fill another major gap brought on by the pandemic, the OWRSS program will recruit people in retail, hospitality or administrative roles who are unemployed because of COVID-19. And the program is about more than just employment. It's also a chance to make a difference in the lives of both staff and residents.

"I encourage those who are looking for new opportunities or those who have been displaced during the pandemic to consider working in a long-term care home," says Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care.

"This will not only be personally satisfying work, it will help out our frontline staff and greatly improve the quality of life for our seniors."

'Honoured to be asked to collaborate'

Once candidates pass a screening process, they go through a series of learning modules on working with seniors designed by the Michener Institute, Baycrest and the Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care.

With expertise in designing healthcare curricula, Michener was a natural partner for the project. 

"We're honoured to be asked to collaborate with the Ministry of Health, and also play a lead role in the OWRSS program," says Maria Tassone, Senior Director of the School of Continuing Education at The Michener Institute of Education at UHN.

"Michener's reputation for designing novel learning pathways and our rapid response to upskilling Ontario healthcare providers during the first wave of COVID-19 make us a trusted and effective partner."

With lockdowns, businesses closing and the clear message to stay home, COVID-19 has shaken our community since the spring. But with initiatives such as the OWRSS program, the hope is that some of the burden will be lifted from frontline workers and vulnerable populations will get the protection and care they desperately need.

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