While we hear about some of the local initiatives to support staff and residents in long-term care during the pandemic, there is also much that goes on behind the scenes, all of it welcome by staff and residents.
Marg Lambert, administrator of Upper Canada Lodge, says the regional home has received “tremendous support” from residents’ families, and the Niagara community, “that has been greatly appreciated by all the staff and residents at the home.”
“We have received financial donations that we use for ongoing staff appreciation events as a way to say thank you to our staff from the families for their hard work throughout the pandemic,” she says.
The beautiful outdoor holiday displays were made possible because of donations of lights and decorations from the local community, families and staff of the lodge.
“Members of the NOTL Garden Club decorated our gazebo this year with garlands and boughs, which was greatly appreciated, and we also received many Christmas cards for our residents from students and staff of UCL. The stockings that the community put together for our residents this year is amazing. We are so incredibly appreciative of the amazing support at Christmas, and all throughout the year.”
Some of that support comes as COVID-19 has highlighted how challenging the job of protecting seniors has become. But that’s not just a local issue, says Lambert. “I think it is accurate to say that the whole world now understands how difficult the job is for every staff member working in long-term care.”
If there is any benefit to come of the pandemic, she says, it’s that long-term care may finally receive funding support to increase staffing levels, which has been needed for many years.
Across the region, and the province, staffing is now becoming a problem in hospitals and long-term care homes, as more staff become infected in the community, or are having to isolate because someone in the family has tested positive.
“I think the most difficult part of our job right now is every week, when we test all of our staff for COVID-19, we wait to see if we are going to make it through another week with all negative results, and stay outbreak-free. It is a bit nerve-racking,” says Lambert.
“I think we all feel that we have a responsibility to ensure we are providing the best care possible to keep our residents safe and well-cared for, but in some ways, we have also been more fortunate than most in that we are still able to work and get paid. We don’t need to worry about paying the bills or buying groceries, which is a concern for so many others in the Niagara area right now. It’s not all bad.”
Staff morale has been up and down over the past 10 months, she says. “It was scary when it started, and we literally shut down, but we were fortunate. We had the ability to increase staffing and use redeployed staff from other Niagara Region divisions.”
Over the summer, she says, “we settled into a routine, with the additional staffing that allowed us to really focus on our residents’ needs, but then the direction changed and families were able to visit again.” Although outdoor visits were a little nerve-racking at first, she says, “overall things went well.” But as restrictions were lifted, “it made the staff scared of relaxing the visiting rules.”
They were nervous about the increased risk of visitors or family bringing COVID-19 into the home, which had remained free of outbreaks.
“Our staff had worked so hard to keep the virus out of the home, and had implemented so many safety precautions that we hoped would continue to work.”
They have appreciated the diligence of families in following the rules, of which there were many when visiting the home, “but I believe they understood that we were doing everything we could to keep our residents and staff safe.”
The support from residents’ families, she says, “has been amazing. It has been very hard on the families as well when they were not able to see their loved ones, but we continue to receive emails and cards of support from our current families, and in some cases, families who no longer have anyone living in the home.”
Kristin Mechelse, program manager at Upper Canada Lodge, says although the pandemic has created challenges and the need for changes to their day, it has also provided opportunities for staff to do things differently, “and demonstrate what truly compassionate caregivers they are.”
Recreation staff, for example, she says, “have had to completely change the way they provide programming opportunities for our residents. Since the pandemic caused visitor restrictions in our homes, our staff found a variety of different ways to keep our residents and family members connected through phone calls, Skype and FaceTime calls, window visits, emails and even pen pal letters.”
The recreation staff at UCL stepped up “by working additional hours, learning new skills, providing not only meaningful and safe programming opportunities, but also emotional support, and even hair cuts for our residents.”
Staff have gone “above and beyond,” says Mechelse, “and we are very lucky to have such a dedicated group of staff in all departments of our home. I think our staff prove daily that this is not just a job. It is truly a passion for providing the best care possible for our seniors.”
Asked how the public can show their support for front-line workers and residents in long-term care, Lambert answers, “I believe that the best way that everyone can help is by following the public health guidelines of wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands frequently, and finally staying home and only visiting with people in your household. I understand that it is Christmas, but we need to do these things to ensure that the pandemic does not get worse than it already is. The more community cases grow, the more it increases the risk of an outbreak in our home.”
In addition, she says, when a vaccine is available to the public, “it would be a very good idea to get it.”
Lambert says she’s very excited the vaccines are available, and that access to long-term care staff and residents is a priority. She’ll be the first in line to get it when it’s time, she adds — staff will have to be vaccinated at the hospital where the vaccine will initially be stored. “We are currently working on the process for staff to get their vaccines.”
Long-term care residents will be vaccinated in the home, once shipments of the vaccines that don’t have to be kept frozen are available, she adds.