When Ashley Vachon was training to become a personal support worker at Cambrian College in 2011 and 2012, the school didn't yet have a lab to simulate what it's like to care for clients in their homes.
Most of the students' training was done in labs that simulated institutional settings such as hospitals or long-term care facilities.
While her instructors did the best they could to cover the basics of home care, Vachon said she sometimes had to figure out things on the fly when she started working as a home-care worker last year.
“Because we didn't have the basic necessities to learn, I got into the job field, and now I'm given a client that I need to get out of the bathtub, maybe with a ceiling lift or something,” she said.
“I'm like 'OK, I've got to teach myself' ... It was completely intimidating.”
Given her experiences, Vachon said she was thrilled to be invited for the Aug. 22 grand opening of a new personal support worker lab at Cambrian College which simulates a home environment.
The lab, which will be used by students starting this fall, includes a living room, bedroom and kitchen where students are able to care for sophisticated talking mannequins.
There's also an en suite classroom where students receive instruction.
“Here they'll be actually able to perform tasks and be more prepared, because they're actually put in that situation before they're out in the work field,” Vachon said. “It's great.”
The new lab was created thanks to $107,000 in funding provided by the SIM-one Ontario Simulation Network, a provincially funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing simulated clinical learning.
Susan Lenard, chief operating officer of SIM-one, said her organization received $2.3 million in funding from the province to create this type of lab in all 23 Ontario colleges which offer personal support worker programs.
The funding was offered under the province's Seniors' Care Strategy, which includes a commitment to provide more in-home care for seniors.
“In reviewing the strategy, we made a proposal to the ministry that there was an opportunity to enhance the training for personal support workers,” Lenard said.
Before the funding was allocated, only 27 per cent of personal support worker students in Ontario had access to home care labs, but now 95 per cent of them will be able to train in a facility similar to Cambrian's.
“Cambrian's facility is absolutely terrific,” Lenard said. “It's one of the best now.”
The funding has allowed Cambrian to purchase not only the basics of an in-home environment such as a bed, bathtub, couch and chair, and medical equipment such as a walker and ceiling lift, but also two simulation mannequins.
“This is what's called a Nursing Anne,” said Valerie Walker, who until recently was the co-ordinator of the personal support worker program, but is now heading up the practical nursing program.
“It's a high-fidelity mannequin. It connects to a laptop and it remotely breathes and talks and has vital signs. We also bought Randy 9,000, which is a weighted mannequin.
“You can adjust their weight so the students can know what it's like to pick up somebody who's very heavy or very light and frail.”
Walker said she's thrilled the new facility is in place, as 60 per cent of the personal support worker jobs in the province are actually in home care.
There's also a shortage of home-care workers in Ontario, added Dan Draper, Cambrian's health sciences and emergency services dean.
He said the college hopes the added level of sophistication the lab provides will attract more students to the personal support worker program, eventually feeding more grads out into the home-care field.
In the past, Cambrian students who went out on home-care placements were shocked about the realities of the job because they'd never practised in that type of environment before, Walker said.
The lab will also make Cambrian personal support worker grads more attractive to employers, she said.
“It makes them a better hire because they know what they're getting into,” Walker said. “They know what home care is about.”
Peter Lawlor, Cambrian College's new president, said the new lab is just another example of the college's attempts to meet the community's needs.
“It provides flexible teaching and hands-on learning opportunities that really prepares students for the real world,” he said. “This is an example of excellence in teaching and learning.”