How could the right-to-die issue impact long-term care?

Rona Ambrose and Provinces seeking solutions. Photo courtesy of

Rona Ambrose and Provinces seeking solutions. Photo courtesy of

Government interest could spark possibility of future change in laws

October 8, 2013 — Deron Hamel 

There’s been much talk recently among provincial health ministers about people’s right to die with dignity. While this conversation isn’t new, it has been getting a lot more attention, due to Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose sitting down last week with her provincial counterparts to discuss the issue.

While Ambrose reaffirmed that the government has no plans to change the Criminal Code to accommodate assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill, it cannot be ignored that the federal government’s willingness to hear input about the matter is signalling the possibility that the tide could one day turn.

Increased discussion within government was triggered by a law proposed in Quebec’s National Assembly that would allow doctors to help terminally-ill patients, under specific circumstances, end their lives if they chose.

But how could this impact the long-term care sector?

Clearly, there’s a balance to be struck. Promoting quality of life is a cornerstone of long-term care providers’ values and culture. Moreover, long-term care homes are committed to upholding people’s dignity. But what about the dignity of a person who is terminally ill, and how can dignity be upheld if a person is not allowed to die the way they choose?

There’s no simple, one-size-fits-all answer here. But the right-to-die question is something the sector needs to ponder, since any given long-term care home has many people living with terminal illnesses, from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease to neurological illnesses.

Something else to consider is the fact that long-term care homes are today seeing an increased number of residents with serious complex-care issues uncommon to long-term care in years past — homes are now admitting residents with terminal illnesses such as Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

These are illnesses that have considerable impact on a person’s dignity and quality of life. In countries that allow physician-assisted death under certain circumstances, such as Switzerland, the patients often have these illnesses.

Naturally, the right-to-die issue raises controversy; after all, doctors are legally and morally tasked with prolonging people’s lives, not helping end lives. The question to be asked is this: is the current system helping or hindering patients if prolonging a terminally-ill person’s life against their will is decreasing their life quality? As caregivers in long-term care homes, how could allowing physicians to assist people in the dying process affect you?

If you would like to comment on this issue, please e-mail deron(at), or call 800-294-0051, ext. 23.

If you have feedback on this story, please call the newsroom at 800-294-0051, or e-mail deron(at)

Cold and flu season is here

‘It only takes 20-30 seconds of your time to clean your hands’

October 31, 2013 — Deron Hamel 

With the arrival of cold and flu season comes the reminder of how important proper hand hygiene is in the effort to keep residents and staff members safe in long-term care homes.

Twenty to thirsty seconds of handwashing? Priceless. Thanks to for the photo.

Twenty to thirsty seconds of handwashing? Priceless. Thanks to for the photo

Long-term care home residents can be particularly vulnerable to infections. While homes are equipped with many hand-sanitizers and staff members do their best to keep their hands clean, it’s worthwhile, especially this time of year, to remind people about proper hand-washing techniques.

While environmental services departments work tirelessly to keep tables, doorknobs, handrails and other commonly-touched areas of long-term care homes clean, the most important defence is keeping hands bacteria free.

The Health Canada website explains proper hand-washing techniques:

– Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand cleansers are useful when soap and water are not available. In most cases antibacterial soap is not necessary for safe, effective hand hygiene.
– Remove any hand or arm jewellery you may be wearing and wet your hands with warm water. Add regular soap and rub your hands together, ensuring you have lathered all surfaces for at least 15 seconds — approximately the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”
– Wash the front and back of your hands, as well as between your fingers and under your nails.
– Rinse your hands well under warm running water, using a rubbing motion.
– Wipe and dry your hands gently with a paper towel or a clean towel. Drying them vigorously can damage the skin.
– Turn off the tap using the paper towel so that you do not re-contaminate your hands. When using a public bathroom, use the same paper towel to open the door when you leave.
– If skin dryness is a problem, use a moisturizing lotion.

Oct. 21-25 was International Infection Control Week. The week, which has been recognized since 1988, is aimed at raising the awareness of ways to prevent infections in health-care environments.

“Cleaning your hands is an ordinary procedure and does not take a lot of time and effort,” the Community and Hospital Infection Control Association of Canada says in a statement.

“You can use soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub. It only takes 20-30 seconds of your time to clean your hands.”

Just Clean Your Hands, a Public Health Ontario initiative has education and training information for long-term care homes looking for ways to maximize hand-hygiene practices. Click here for the website.

What is your home doing to promote hand hygiene? If you have a story you would like to share, please call the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 23.

If you have feedback on this story, please call the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 23, or e-mail deron(at)

OMNI LEA wins prestigious caregiver award

‘At the end of each day I feel like it’s my life that has been enriched by the residents,’ says Kellie Bennett

October 29, 2013 — Deron Hamel

It may be Kellie Bennett’s job to enrich people’s lives but she says it’s her life that’s made better through her work with Garden Terrace residents.

Garden Terrace LEA Kellie Bennett (centre) is seen here after winning the 2013 Anita St-Jean Memorial Caregiver of the Year Award.

Garden Terrace LEA Kellie Bennett (centre) is seen here after winning the 2013 Anita St-Jean Memorial Caregiver of the Year Award.

A life enrichment aide (LEA) at Garden Terrace, Bennett was honoured on Saturday (Oct. 26) with the 2013 Anita St-Jean Memorial Caregiver of the Year Award. It was presented in Ottawa during the You and Me for Memories Evening to Remember Gala.

“At the end of each day I feel like it’s my life that has been enriched by the residents,” she tells the OMNIway. “This means the world to me; I’m very honoured.”

The Anita St-Jean Memorial Caregiver of the Year Award is given out annually at gala to front-line caregivers in the Ottawa region who have shown outstanding performance in caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.

While she says she’s “honoured” to have won the award, Bennett notes the impact has yet to sink in. As happy as she is to have won the award, Bennett says she’s even more proud that the selection committee chose a life enrichment worker, adding LEAs play a major role in the lives of long-term care residents who have dementia.

Bennett was nominated for the accolade by administrator Carolyn Della Foresta. Like Bennett, Della Foresta comes from a life enrichment background and knows first-hand the difference LEAs make in residents’ lives.

Della Foresta nominated Bennett because of the LEA’s personalized approach to working with residents affected by cognitive impairment. The administrator saw that when Bennett worked with residents they would often enjoy an activity they didn’t think they wanted to do, simply because of Bennett’s kind, caring approach.

“With Kellie, nothing is done for show — every decision that is made in her day is about what is good for the residents,” says Della Foresta.

You and Me for Memories is a grassroots group raising money for Alzheimer’s disease research. It was started in 2008 by families of Garden Terrace residents.

This year saw three front-line workers from OMNI Health Care long-term care homes. They were Bennett, Garden Terrace personal support worker Birru Firew and Almonte Country Haven LEA Jessica Lynch.

If you have feedback on this story, please call the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 23, or e-mail deron(at)

Ont. doctor underscores importance of end-of-life care plan

Summary explaining futility of aggressive treatment in some cases would help people make informed decisions

October 28, 2013 — Deron Hamel 

The chair of the Ontario Medical Association’s section on general internal medicine is suggesting health-care stakeholders develop a written summary of end-of-life goals and information explaining the futility of aggressive treatquality-endoflife-care_630x440ment in some cases to enhance palliative-care practices.

In the commentary section of the Toronto Star on Oct. 24, Dr. Charles S. Shaver offers an interesting solution to a challenge found in the health-care system: that a group of doctors, nurses, ethicists and spiritual leaders could convene to draft a summary that would help physicians talk with families to help them make better end-of-life care decisions when their loved ones have no chance of survival.

Once completed, the information could be translated into several languages and sent to Canadian hospitals from coast to coast.

The issue of family members insisting on resuscitating their loved ones who have no chance of survival is often rooted in cultural and religious differences, Shaver points out.

In other cases, Shaver writes, a person’s son or daughter who lives far away from their parent has feelings of guilt and will insist that doctors use aggressive treatment to prevent their mother or father from dying.

However, having information available explaining how aggressive treatments to individuals who are dying can often be detrimental could help ease these situations when they arise, Shaver proposes.

“A physician dealing with a difficult situation — especially when the patient is of a different ethnic background — could speak to family members, hand out this document for them to discuss among themselves, and then meet again to make a more reasoned end-of-life decision,” he writes.

Shaver adds: “Communication would be further enhanced if the physician could enlist the help of a physician, nurse, pharmacist, etc. who was of the same cultural group as the patient, and could meet with family members and answer any questions in their own language.”

In his commentary, Shaver proposes that the Canadian Medical Association could scrutinize the process to prevent the information as being perceived as a tool to save money in provincial health budgets.

Obviously, this is an issue the long-term care sector has a stake in. If you would like to comment on this issue, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 23, or e-mail deron(at)

Click here to read Shaver’s full commentary.

If you have feedback on this story, please call the newsroom at 800-294-0051, or e-mail deron(at)

PSW praised for focus on ensuring people’s dignity

Birru Firew nominated for Anita St-Jean Memorial Caregiver of the Year Award

October 22, 2013 — Deron Hamel

On any given day, Garden Terrace personal support worker (PSW) Birru Firew can be found working with residents affected by cognitive impairment and going above and beyond his responsibilities.

Firew often takes on tasks that increase his workload, says administrator Carolyn Della Foresta. But because his No. 1 priority is residents he never shows an ounce of stress, she adds, noting he exhibits patience, kindness and genuine caring every day.

Ensuring residents living with dementia maintain their dignity is of utmost importance to Firew, says Della Foresta, adding she has seen the PSW encourage residents to complete tasks independently. When they do, Firew is standing there with a big smile.

This is why the administrator has nominated Firew for the Anita St-Jean Memorial Caregiver of the Year Award, which will be announced Oct. 26 during the You and Me for Memories Evening to Remember Gala in Ottawa.

“His respect and reverence for each of the residents entrusted to his care is evident in his words, his actions and his smile,” says Della Foresta in her nomination.

“His soothing and calm approach with his residents can be described as angelic.  Even though his workload is tremendous and his duties are taxing, no one around him would ever know and the residents he is caring for would certainly never feel that he is experiencing any stress.”

As a testament to Firew’s gift as a caregiver, Della Foresta says the PSW has amazing success working with female residents. This, she notes, is often challenging for male caregivers, but Firew’s caring nature overcomes this, she says.

“I believe that our residents see in Birru what each of us would so desperately long for if we were in their shoes — I believe they see comfort.”

Della Foresta tells the nominating committee that Firew doesn’t expect any recognition for his work — for him it’s all about the residents.

“Nothing with Birru is for show — it is genuinely who he is and how he desires to care for his residents,” she says.

“He can often be seen reassuring a resident, calming them down when they are upset for no apparent reason and in doing so preserving their pride and helping them back to a place of peace.”

The Anita St-Jean Memorial Caregiver of the Year Award is given out annually during the You and Me for Memories and Evening to Remember Gala to front-line caregivers in the Ottawa region who have shown outstanding performance in caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.

You and Me for Memories is a grassroots group raising money for Alzheimer’s disease research. It was started in 2008 by family members of Garden Terrace residents.

— More to come

Is coconut oil the answer to the Alzheimer’s question?


Thank you to for the photo enhancement.

A study is looking into the possibility of preventing, controlling cognitive impairment

October 15, 2013 — Deron Hamel

Coconut oil is the latest natural remedy researchers are giving serious consideration to in effort to prevent and control Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

While there’s yet to be published clinical evidence attributing coconut oil to preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease, a five-year U.S. study examining the substance’s effects on 65 people with mild to moderate cognitive impairment is expected to be released next year.

There is also anecdotal evidence supporting coconut oil’s positive effect on people with cognitive impairment, including the husband of Dr. Mary Newport, the researcher leading the study.

Newport, a doctor who heads a neonatology ward in Tampa, Florida, began including four teaspoons of coconut oil into her husband’s diet each day.

Then she began noticing improvements in her husband’s condition.

“Before the coconut oil, he could not tie his shoes,” Newport said in an interview with CTV News, adding her husband also had gait issues.

“That improved. He walked normally and he was able to start running again. He was able to start reading again, his conversation improved dramatically and then over several months we saw improvements in his memory.”

Newport says before she started giving her husband coconut oil he was not responding to his medications.

Some experts believe the key to using coconut oil as a treatment for cognitive impairment might be molecules called ketones. Ketones are produced when fat is turned into energy.

An estimated 500,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Cognitive impairment also affects the majority of long-term care home residents.

While the Alzheimer Society of Canada underscores that there is yet to be conclusive evidence pointing to the impact of coconut oil on people with cognitive impairment, studies like this are important to finding a cure.

“(T)he interest in coconut oil reinforces the value we place on research,” the society’s website says. “It’s our best hope of finding effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and improving the quality of life and care for those affected.”

If you would like to comment on this issue, please e-mail deron(at), or call 800-294-0051, ext. 23.

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BSO continues to demonstrate value

A glimpse at what’s working well

October 11, 2013 — Deron Hamel

The Behavioural Supports Ontario (BSO) program, the provincial initiative to help enhance quality of life for seniors affected by dementia and other conditions that cause agitation, is proving to be one of the most fruitful interventions the sector has seen recently.

OMNI Health Care homes have certainly seen the benefit of this program, which is funded to long-term care homes through Ontario’s 14 Local Health Integration Networks. Funding is largely put towards staff education.

There has been $55 million in provincial funding provided for BSO during the past two fiscal years.

In a Sept. 16 OMNIway article, registered practical nurse Allison Fairweather, Country Terrace’s BSO lead, commended the program for helping the Komoka long-term care home reduce its rate of responsive behaviours by half since the home began using methods derived from training made possible through the funding.

The home’s care team also sees the program’s value.

“They have to see it to believe it, but once they do, they’re hooked,” she says, adding it is rewarding to see her colleagues climb on board the BSO ship. “I find what helps the most is having someone show you exactly how it is done,” she adds.

This is just the latest BSO success story at OMNI; other OMNI homes have also seen benefits from the program.

In 2012, Riverview Manor in Peterborough reported a 35.5 per cent decrease in responsive behaviours, with a 34.4 per cent decline in PRN medication administration since it launched the program.

Pharmaceuticals considered PRN medications include psychotropic and anti-anxiety medications as well as sedatives.

At Forest Hill in Kanata, intentional decisions to reduce the use of restraints to keep residents safe resulted not only in fewer falls, but also in reduced agitation and anxiety.

At Streamway Villa in Cobourg, use of Montessori activities with residents who have dementia helped reduce as-needed use of psychotropic drugs from 63 per month to one.

The OMNIway will continue to share success stories from the BSO initiative.

If you have feedback on this story, please call the newsroom at 800-294-0051 or e-mail deron(at)

– With files from Jeanne Pengelly

New management team for Burnbrae Gardens

Staff, resident changes require strong, skilled team that ‘clicks’

October 10, 2013 — Jeanne Pengelly

There are some new faces blooming at Burnbrae Gardens.

The 43-bed home in Campbellford has had not just a change of administration within the last year, but also has a new director of care (DOC), nutritional services manager(NSM) and a new RAI co-ordinator.

For Kristen Farrell, the new DOC, that’s a significant change in leadership.

“The residents and staff members have to roll with each new change,” she says. “For a small home, that is tough.”

But with all the changes complete — the hiring of Adam Brand as nutrition services manager is the most recent addition — Farrell feels Burnbrae is well poised.

“The team has to click, especially in a small home like this. And I think it does,” she says.

Farrell’s adventure into long-term care was really the last cog in the wheel, she adds.

“It was another adventure in the spectrum of health care,” she says, adding that she had worked and an RN at Kingston General Hospital’s cardiothoracic floor for six years and then moved to community-based nursing at a retirement home in Belleville. In May, she started at Burnbrae Gardens.

“I see this as a very under-appreciated sector of the health care spectrum,” she says. The adventure for her was to try to mobilize appropriate resources to service the residents.

But within the sector, there’s an even bigger challenge and that is to look after the population those with mental health issues.

“It is a big crack in our system,” she says.

The hope comes from training and support being pushed out at the provincial level to help better equip caregivers with knowledge and skills to help these residents.

“I think the province is a bit overwhelmed,” Farrell says. “I don’t think they thought the need was as great as it was.”

Echoing a common sentiment of those who work in long-term care, Farrell says, “It is what it is. Education will be crucial.”

“The look of a home can shift within a year. Some of the older residents move on, and the younger ones become more dependent. Each home is really not about its walls or its location; it’s the whole of its population, staff and residents, always shifting.

The one thing that has struck Farrell at Burnbrae Gardens is that “everybody loves their job.”

“They love what they do,” she says. “That’s really inspiring.

“All of us have to remember we’re providing care to these people, but one day we will be these people.”

If you have a story you would like to share with the OMNIway, or feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 30, or e-mail deron(at)

Community spirit shines at OMNI

Corporate and home sponsored events illustrate organization’s dedication to people

October 3, 2013 — Deron Hamel

OMNI Health Care has long placed high value on communities and relationship-building and during the past few weeks this theme played out in many ways at several of the organization’s long-term care homes.

On Sept. 26, OMNI sponsored a blood-donor clinic on behalf of the Peterborough Northumberland Canadian Blood Services. Fifty-six people turned up to donate blood. OMNI’s effort was applauded by Theresa Foley, a sales representative for Magic 96.7, the event’s media sponsor.

“The reason OMNI Health Care is interested in sponsoring blood donor clinics is to be a service to the community,” says Foley.

“These blood donor clinics give OMNI a chance to present and flag their name in the community as a sponsor of the community — a company that cares.”

Given the large percentage of OMNI residents who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, the organization has a history of supporting fundraising and awareness campaigns to help the Alzheimer Society of Canada and its branches.

Sept. 21 was World Alzheimer’s Day and once again some of OMNI’s 17 long-term care homes hosted Coffee Break, an annual Alzheimer’s disease awareness day and fundraiser.

A notable success was at the 68-bed Springdale Country Manor. The home’s Coffee Break sold coffee, doughnuts and pastries to residents, staff and visitors, raising $107.

“I think that’s incredible given our home’s size,” says life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) Candice Stewart.

Pleasant Meadow Manor recently raised $1,662 for the Norwood long-term care home’s residents’ council during a community car show it hosted Sept. 18.

Twenty-three classic and antique cars were on display at the home, and money was raised through a 50-50 draw, silent auction and barbecue.

LEC Chris Garden commends staff member Tiffany Martell for creating the idea, which she says was successful at bringing the community together.

“Tiffany did an awesome job,” Garden says. “The night was great; it was a huge success . . . and there was a great teamwork approach to make it happen.”

If you have feedback on this story, please call the newsroom at 800-294-0051 or e-mail deron(at)

– With files from Jeanne Pengelly

Ontario court supports gov’t in physio changes

The Ontario court Aug. 21 denied an application by the Designated Physiotherapy Clinics Association to stall the government’s plan to implement funding changes that will affect

Deb Matthews

Deb Matthews

physiotherapy in long-term care.

The clinics had launched an aggressive campaign to engage the provincial Liberals in more discussion before the changes took effect. On July 26, a judge ruled in favour of the clinics, suggesting that their application warranted a review by a three-judge panel. But the panel’s review chose to back the government, which has now stated it will move forward with the funding changes.

It could mean a reduction in physiotherapy services in long-term care and retirement homes; however OMNI Health Care president and CEO Patrick McCarthy says the company is continuing to work closely with its physiotherapy providers to ensure minimal impact on residents of OMNI homes.