They switched careers to help fight the pandemic, and never looked back

Shadeen Thompson, (left), a Head Nurse at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, assists Dave Morin, who changed careers to become an orderly last year
Shadeen Thompson, (left), a Head Nurse at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, assists Dave Morin, who changed careers to become an orderly last year

Nearly all the orderlies who joined our CIUSSS during the coronavirus crisis remain on the job

Dave Morin was a manager in a downtown Montreal restaurant when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and it changed the course of his life. The 36-year-old decided to swap food services for healthcare services and became an orderly in a long-term care home.

When the Quebec government appealed for help to staff the province’s hard-hit residences last year, Mr. Morin answered the call—and has never looked back. Now Mr. Morin works as an orderly at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, part of the wave of recruits who provided reinforcements in long-term care facilities during the pandemic.

“I was ready to put myself in the heart of the action and try a new challenge,” he says. “I wanted to be able to help people every day.”

He is one of 224 recruits employed by our CIUSSS within the Quebec government’s fast-track program to train and hire orderlies in understaffed care homes. Despite the heavy demands of their jobs, including the physical and emotional pressures of working with vulnerable seniors during a pandemic, the recruits have shown a strong commitment to their chosen path. To date, 95 per cent of the new orderlies—known as préposés aux bénéficiaires, or PABs—have remained on staff with our CIUSSS.

“We’re proud of these numbers,” says Sabrina Luximon, Talent Acquisition Advisor with the Directorate of Human Resources, Communications and Legal affairs. “We had to adapt rapidly, and everyone worked together to ensure success.”

The high retention rate is not the result of chance. Human Resources and the Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors (SAPA) worked hand in hand to carefully select candidates from among hundreds of applicants, and then made sure they had on-the-job support and training during their internships. Once assigned to one of our CIUSSS’s seven long-term care facilities, each recruit was partnered with an experienced orderly who mentored and guided them; “PAB Coaches” and internship coordinators were also available to answer questions.

“A lot of work was put into place to welcome them, so that they felt part of the team—and were not just there to fill the gaps,” says Hetal Patel, Program Coordinator for SAPA-Long term Care. “We succeeded in recruiting new people, and we had to help them grow.”

The reinforcements arrived from a wide variety of backgrounds, but bonded in a common purpose: Providing critical support so that long-term care homes didn’t face the understaffing problems that afflicted many centres during the first wave.

“There’s more coverage on the units now, and that offers us a certain reassurance,” says Shadeen Thompson, a Head Nurse at Maimonides. “They’ve really made a tremendous difference.”

Many have found satisfaction in the job despite the high demands. Mr. Morin says he’s often soaked at the end of his shift from the physical exertion of working under full protective clothing. Yet he makes sure to give attention to the seniors in his care through small, daily gestures: cutting their fingernails, shaving their faces, sitting down for conversation and pronouncing their names correctly. “I feel like I answered the challenge, and when I look back, I’ll be able to say that I did something to help people.”

Constantina Rallis used to work in customer service in a major Canadian bank. After hearing last year’s appeal for reinforcements in long-term care homes, she did some soul-searching and decided to sign up as an orderly. “I wanted give back to seniors, and feel a sense of purpose,” she says.

Now Ms. Rallis is part of the new group of recruits at Maimonides, where she says she’s been made to feel both welcome and supported. “I feel like I’m part of one big team that shares a goal—to take care of residents as best we can.”

She’s also experienced the strains of the job, as well as the heartbreak of losing elderly residents she’d come to know. Yet Ms. Rallis goes home each day feeling fulfilled.

“The job is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. But at the end of the day, it also replenishes you. I can say I actually fed someone, dressed someone, made someone laugh. It’s a deeper feeling,” she says. “It gives me the satisfaction to say: ‘I made a difference today.’ And that keeps me going.”