Nursing home residents and staff let loose

Matt Gardner
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A memorable annual event that began at Mont St. Joseph Home is striving to ensure that retirement truly represents one’s “golden years.”

Volunteers, staff and residents at Mont St. Joseph Home mingle at the Mexican food table on Friday afternoon for folk fest, one of the daily events at the 2012 Special Care Home Week.

The Special Care Home Week is an opportunity for Mont St. Joseph residents to let loose with a mix of special events — from bingo tournaments to an art gala featuring works by residents — that aim to fulfil two main objectives: Celebrating the lives of people who live and work at Mont St. Joseph, and sharing with the community the successes and challenges of providing care.

“Our work is very challenging and we serve a very fragile member of our community,” executive director Brian Martin said. “That’s our very aged and our disabled. So we take our work very seriously, and when we’re struggling with things, not able to meet the needs of our residents, we think it’s important that the community and our policy makers and our politicians are also aware of our challenges.”

Paramount among those challenges is the lack of proper standards of care for nursing homes. While government strictly regulates most industries, no similar qualifications are required in care homes.

“We say we need nursing care, which is a given, but we don’t talk about what we’re supposed to be providing, what standards, what quality we’re supposed to be providing,” Martin said. “None of those things are outlined either in the Ministry (of Health)’s work or legislation. There’s nothing.”

Perhaps in response to the lack of central direction, Mont St. Joseph has taken the lead in providing a superior qualify of life for its residents. The home draws from its concept of “The Eden Alternative,” which identifies loneliness, helplessness and boredom as the chief plagues in any human community, and posits solutions to make people feel useful, loved and engaged.

An illustrative example from the Special Care Home Week is the “Giving and Receiving” appreciation service, which took place on Wednesday. The event has become a Mont St. Joseph tradition.

“It’s a little bit of a religious celebration,” Martin said. “We have a priest or a member of the clergy who comes by and shares some words and stories about scriptures, and then — and this is the powerful part of it — the residents turn around and they bless all of the staff and family and volunteers who are present that day. It’s a very powerful, very emotional day both for the resident and for the person who’s being blessed.”

If you’re able to do something of deep value for someone else who is constantly doing stuff for you ... it gives our residents some self-respect back, that they are a person of worth and value and they have something to give. Rev. Nora Vedress

Rev. Nora Vedress, who sits on the home’s board of directors, said the ceremony turned the tables on typical relations at the home.

“You start feeling really demoralized, I think, if you’re constantly being cared for by someone else,” she said. “You lose your independence, right? So if you’re able to do something of deep value for someone else who is constantly doing stuff for you when you’re a vulnerable person or in a vulnerable situation, it gives our residents some self-respect back, that they are a person of worth and value and they have something to give.  It’s not just about us caring for them all the time.”

Preparations for Special Care Home Week prize individual initiative from residents. The folk fest, for example, came about as the result of a resident who suggested the home needed a similar event to the Taste of Prince Albert festival.

On Friday afternoon, residents, staff and visitors sampled a variety of exotic food, with each of the six “neighbourhoods” in Mont St. Joseph representing a different country’s cuisine: England, Germany, Mexico, France, Brazil or “tourists.”

Special Care Home Week began at Mont St. Joseph before spreading to care homes across the region. The event promises to endure. But as Martin points out, giving meaning to the lives of residents is a year-round operation.

In that sense, the fact that the home shares space with a nursery could not be more significant. Children regularly greet new residents who might have negative feelings about moving into the home, and listen to the residents read stories for them.

As a result, the children have greatly brightened the residents’ daily routines.

“For those residents who come here at 7:30 in the morning and wait for the kids to come at 8:30, they’re getting out of bed because they want to say hello to their young friends,” Vedress said. “It gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Geographic location: England, Germany, Mexico France Brazil

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