The Pines Long Term Care Home is taking on a third school in a program that trains staff for care homes.

The District of Muskoka’s Health Services Committee approved the addition of Conestoga College Thursday morning. Conestoga is the latest school to partner with The Pines on the PSW FAST program, joining Georgian College and the Holi Health PSW School.

The program is tuition-free, and fast-tracks the training of Personal Support Workers (PSWs) from eight months down to six months. Students complete three months of coursework and labs, followed by three months of paid onsite training at a care home with wages reimbursed by the Ministry of Long Term Care. The Ontario government launched the program at the start of the year to address the shortage of care home staff across the province.

Since the program launched, The Pines has had 15 to 20 students come through on placements and has hired eight to 10 of them as staff, according to Jennifer Ridgley, Administrator of The Pines. Ridgley says students in the program are paired with experienced PSWs and help them with day to day tasks.

“It’s great because we get to see, and they get to see, what long term care is like and see whether it’s the right fit for them and for us here,” says Ridgley. “We get to work together with the students to try and see if it’s for them and recruit them if we’re able to.”

According to Ridgley, The Pines isn’t quite as short-staffed as other homes in the province, partially thanks to programs like these. She says the home is trying to fill 13 vacancies, but having the students around takes a bit of the load off PSWs and allows them to give each resident a bit of extra care.

“It’s definitely helpful, the more hands we have to help the residents,” says Ridgley. “It allows the staff to maybe slow down and take a few extra minutes to fix the residents’ hair just so, or curl it, or those kinds of things. Sometimes it allows the staff to take some extra time to spend with the residents and connect.”

According to Ridgley, getting Conestoga set up at The Pines should be finished next week, and students will be able to start at the home the week after.