Forest Hill applauded for keeping residents and families connected throughout the pandemic

Family member Karen Germundson says regular phone calls LEC Craig Forrest organized between her and her father were a ‘lifeline’

If there’s one thing Karen Germundson says she has learned about Forest Hill since the COVID-19 pandemic began 16 months ago, it’s that staff members will do everything they can to support residents and their families during trying times.

Karen, whose father is a resident at the Kanata, Ont. long-term care home, says this was clear from the moment the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020.

Due to safety restrictions that went into effect right away, family members could not enter the home to visit their loved ones. Communication between residents and family members was going to be crucial, and Karen says Forest Hill life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) Craig Forrest immediately began organizing phone calls for her dad – something that made a major difference.

“Craig was a huge help; he arranged so many phone calls so that I could keep in touch with my dad,” Karen tells The OMNIway.

“My dad can’t use the phone himself. We didn’t have a phone for him, and that was my big concern: how on Earth are we going to keep in touch?”

But Craig continued to organize regular phone calls for Karen and her dad. Craig would call Karen and hand her dad the phone. Karen was able to talk to her dad almost every day, and that made the situation easier for both her and her father to handle, she says.

There was a lot of uncertainty in the early days of the pandemic. No one knew how long it would last or when residents and family members would be able to see each other, so phone calls between residents and their families became a “lifeline,” Karen says.

“Those phone calls were super important to us and to my dad, of course,” she says. “It was hard for him to understand the whole COVID situation. I think it was an anchor for him because he really needed those phone calls every day.”

Karen also says the pandemic taught her how resilient Forest Hill team members are. With restrictions changing throughout the duration of the pandemic, Forest Hill staff members, she says, have always adjusted and put the residents first, no matter what.

“I don’t know how much more work (the pandemic has) created for them, but I know it created a lot more work for them, and they just took it on – they just did it,” she says.

“I think it’s their adaptability. They had to keep changing and changing, every time. They just did it, and it must have been really hard for them, but they did it.”

– This is Part 1 of a two-part story

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Forest Hill’s life enrichment team has created an innovative way to host safe bingo games

Residents were missing their favourite activity, so staff figured out how to bring it back to them

Bingo is a favourite activity among Forest Hill residents, and with no large-group activities being hosted at the Ottawa-area long-term care home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the life enrichment team has found a way to deliver the game in a way that meets safety protocols.

Life enrichment co-ordinator Craig Forrest and his team have been gathering small groups of residents on each of Forest Hill’s five floors every Thursday.

Residents are each handed a bingo card. Life enrichment team members are given walkie-talkies. The bingo caller will announce the balls as they come up. As the numbers come through on the two-way radios, life enrichment staff on all floors will help residents mark their cards.

“If a bingo is called on one floor, everyone will hold until we check the numbers,” Craig explains. “We keep track of who won and then we go around delivering prizes afterwards.”

While this may be an unorthodox way for bingo to be played, it has been a big hit with residents, Craig says.

“This has really worked well because (bingo) is one thing the residents were really missing.”

Craig says a major benefit from holding bingo games using this method is that the life enrichment team can engage many residents on all floors while adhering to safety protocols in place.

“We’ve been doing this once a week and it has been working well,” he says. “The residents really enjoy it and look forward to it.”

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Pen-pal program connecting Forest Hill residents with local families

‘The letters to residents have been fantastic’

Sending e-mails may be the preferred way to correspond in the 21st century, but a group of Forest Hill residents and a family member and her acquaintances have been bringing back some old-time letter-writing as part of a pen-pal program.

It all started about three months ago when the daughter of a resident approached Craig Forrest, the Kanata, Ont. long-term care home’s life enrichment co-ordinator, to let him know she had other family members and friends who were interested in corresponding with residents.

Craig liked the idea and soon residents were receiving letters. About seven residents decided they wanted to write back to the people who had sent them letters, and the pen-pal program was born.

At the time of this writing, there have been three rounds of residents receiving letters and residents sending replies.

The families will write about themselves and their children. They will also send pictures of their families to residents, “and that has meant a lot to our residents,” Craig says.

Residents will write about their history, their own families, their hobbies and what they enjoyed doing as children, he adds.

With large-group programs on hold due to restrictions in place to keep everyone safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the pen-pal program has been a safe way to bring a meaningful activity to residents, Craig says.

“The letters to residents have been fantastic,” Craig says. “It has been going really, really well.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Forest Hill resident Marilyn Orr poses with the first letter she received through the home’s pen-mal program.

Forest Hill resident and Grade 8 student connect through their love of reading

Retired teacher Barbara Brownhill and student Ethan Fletcher have been enjoying books together over Zoom calls

Forest Hill resident Barbara Brownhill has been having video conferencing sessions with a local student that provides a forum for the two to share their love of reading.

For the past two months, Barbara will sit at a desk, open a tablet the Ottawa-area long-term care home’s staff members provide and join Grade 8 student Ethan Fletcher for Zoom calls on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Craig Forrest, the home’s life enrichment co-ordinator, says he received an e-mail from Ethan in early February. The student explained he wanted to have Zoom calls with a resident who enjoyed literature, and Craig immediately thought of Barbara.

The two are a perfect fit for this one-to-one intergenerational program, Craig says. Ethan is a student who enjoys reading, and Barbara, who also enjoys books, is a retired teacher.

“He’s really good with Barbara,” he says of Ethan, adding the student is currently reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Barbara.

When new characters are introduced in the book, Ethan will stop and explain who they are, and he and Barbara will chat about how they fit into the plot.

Forest Hill, like OMNI Health Care’s other long-term care homes, has been working to build stronger community connections in recent years.

The connection between Barbara and Ethan is an example of a “win-win” success that intergenerational programming can bring, Craig says.

“For Ethan, he’s helping Barbara, and Barbara gets to go back to being in a teacher role where she helps him with his reading, so it’s a big success,” he says.

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PHOTO CUTLINE:    Forest Hill resident Barbara Brownhill is seen here having a Zoom call with Grade 8 student Ethan Fletcher. The two have been enjoying books together through conferencing calls since February.

With safety top of mind, Forest Hill residents celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Life enrichment team’s ingenuity helped make the event a big hit with residents

Instead of having a big St. Patrick’s Day party at Forest Hill this year, there were five smaller events to celebrate all things Irish – with social distancing and other safety precautions in full effect, of course.

Like with many long-term care homes, St. Patrick’s Day is a big affair at Forest Hill. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, a typical Forest Hill St. Patrick’s Day party included entertainers performing Celtic music and large-group pub events.

However, due to restrictions in place to keep everyone safe during the ongoing pandemic, this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration could not include large-group gatherings or live entertainment.

But by using their ingenuity, life enrichment team members were able to organize simultaneous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that met safety protocols on each of the Ottawa-area long-term care home’s five floors.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have live music, but we did have Irish and Celtic music CDs here, so we put on lots of music for residents,” explains Craig Forrest, Forest Hill’s life enrichment co-ordinator.

“Gatherings (on each floor) had to be smaller, but we still had the music, the non-alcoholic green beer and other drinks, and lots of food.”

Residents were also provided with St. Patrick’s Day outfits, such as green hats, to wear in the spirit of the day, Craig notes.

Even with social distancing in place and no large-group activities, residents still had a lot of fun on March 17, thanks to the work life enrichment aides put into the day, Craig says.

“The life enrichment aides here are really good, and the residents on each floor really enjoyed (the celebration) – it was a lot of fun for them,” he says.

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Local community brings Christmas cheer to Forest Hill

Letters, cards and a video of Girl Guides singing carols were sent to residents during the holidays

Although it was a different kind of Christmas at Forest Hill due to restrictions in place to keep residents and staff members safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the local community helped make the holiday season brighter for the Ottawa-area long-term care home’s residents.

St. Gabriel School, which is located near Forest Hill in Kanata, encouraged students to design homemade Christmas cards for Forest Hill residents. Just before the Christmas break, the school dropped off a box full of cards, and there was one for each of Forest Hill’s residents, says Craig Forrest, the home’s life enrichment co-ordinator.

Students from another school, M.F. McHugh Education Centre in Ottawa, also made Christmas cards that were sent to Forest Hill residents.

“It really meant a lot to all the residents to get these homemade cards from the kids,” Craig tells The OMNIway.

A group of nursing students from the University of Ottawa took time to write letters to Forest Hill residents and send some Christmas cheer, and this gesture was also well-received, Craig says.

“(The nursing students) knew that our residents were going through a very difficult time, and they wanted to write Christmas greetings to them,” Craig says.

Every Christmas, a troop from the Girl Guides of Canada visits Forest Hill to sing carols for residents. With safety protocols in place, the Girl Guides were not able to visit this past holiday season, so instead members of the troop made videos of them singing.

The videos were compiled into a single video that was sent to Forest Hill. Staff members visited residents individually with a laptop computer to play the video for residents.

“It wasn’t the same (as a live performance), but at least the residents still got to experience the caroling, and they enjoyed that,” he says.

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Photo caption: Forest Hill resident Nancy Garmaise is pictured with a Christmas card she received during the holidays.

Forest Hill residents receive COVID-19 immunization

Forest Hill residents have received their first round of vaccinations to protect them from the COVID-19 virus.

Paramedics from the local public health unit were at Forest Hill on Jan. 14 to immunize more than 140 residents at the Kanata, Ont. long-term care home.

All residents vaccinated provided consent to be immunized.

Some staff members who had not yet received the vaccination, as well as family members who have been deemed “essential caregivers,” were also able to receive immunization, says Craig Forrest, Forest Hill’s life enrichment co-ordinator.

Up to Jan. 14, Craig says about three-quarters of Forest Hill staff members had been immunized, and the paramedics were able to inoculate about 10 staff members who had not yet received the vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine requires two vaccinations, and the paramedics will be returning in two and half weeks to administer the second round, Craig says.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and safety protocols, such as staff wearing face masks, strict hand-washing and social distancing will remain in place at Forest Hill, Craig says there’s a sense of things getting better.

“We are still going to have months (of the pandemic) ahead of us, but at least you can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he tells The OMNIway.

The COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020. At the time of this writing, the Government of Canada website is reporting there have been 731,450 cases of people in Canada contracting the virus. The website reports that 18,622 Canadians have died as a result of COVID-19 infection.

The Government of Ontario says on its website that vaccinations will be crucial to curbing COVID-19 infection.

“(Vaccines) will be an important tool to help stop the spread of the virus and allow individuals, families and workers to safely resume normal life,” the website states.

“The coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine does not cause a coronavirus infection. It helps to build up your immunity to the virus, so your body will fight it off more easily if it affects you.”

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Forest Hill’s patio is getting lots of good use

Residents have been enjoying safe outdoor activities, entertainment and family visits

With restrictions in place on indoor group programming and visitation due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Forest Hill has been making the most of its patio area to keep safe activities and socialization a part of everyday life at the Kanata, Ont. long-term care home.

When possible, life enrichment team members have been hosting programs, limited to 10 or fewer residents, on the patio (social distancing practices are always in place). Activities like trivia have been especially popular outdoors, says life enrichment co-ordinator Craig Forrest.

“We’re definitely trying to take advantage of (the outdoors) as much as we can,” Craig says. “We will also take residents outside on a one-to-one basis to the patio as well.”

There has also been outdoor entertainment at Forest Hill in recent weeks, with musical acts performing from a safe distance and residents seated apart. Because of the smaller audiences when entertainers perform, residents attend performances on a rotating basis.

In fact, Craig says there has been an added benefit to playing shows outside: better acoustics.

“We have always had lots of entertainment here, but it’s almost a different feeling outdoors – it almost sounds like a concert in a way,” he says.

“The residents have really enjoyed the outdoor entertainment because it almost feels like a festival.”

Because this summer has been warmer and sunnier than most, staff members have been stepping up hydration by ensuring residents always have cold drinks when they need them and, of course, providing sunscreen and hats to protect everyone from the rays.

Patio visits between residents and their loved ones have also spiked in recent weeks, Craig says. Forest Hill is offering these visits from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week.

Family members who visit residents at the home’s patio are screened first.

“(Patio) visits have absolutely gone through the roof in popularity,” Craig says.

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Adapting activities, thinking creatively, has helped Forest Hill deliver programming

Life enrichment team has stepped up to the challenge, says LEC

With safety protocols in place to keep residents and staff members safe during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the life enrichment team at Forest Hill has had to adapt activities and think outside the box in order to continue delivering high-quality programming.

The Kanata, Ont. long-term care home has 156 residents, making it one of the largest OMNI Health Care homes. While having a large resident population means there is more work to do, the life enrichment team has successfully stepped up to the challenge, says Forest Hill life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) Craig Forrest.

After the World Health Organization declared the pandemic in March, Forest Hill, like OMNI’s other 17 long-term care homes, began organizing video chats between residents and their loved ones using Skype and FaceTime, which took a lot of planning and time, Craig says.

Now that some restrictions on visitation have been eased, team members’ days largely focus now on planning and overseeing visits inside and outside the home, he adds.

On top of this, some small-group programs, such as bingo and crafts, are running again with social distancing in effect, so staff members are also having to organize a rotation for residents to ensure that anyone wishing to participate gets a chance.

“Overall, we try to be as fair as we can by rotating the residents for programs, and that’s one way everyone has had to adapt,” Craig tells The OMNIway.

“We also have to adapt what was once a large program into a small program with social distancing.”

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Forest Hill ‘gatekeeper’ keeps everyone safe while bringing positivity to work

Ken Gagnon is pictured at the screening station at Forest Hill on Canada Day.

Ken Gagnon screens everyone who enters the home to keep residents and staff safe during the pandemic, and he does so with humour and kindness

Ken Gagnon has a serious job to do at Forest Hill but he does his work every day with a sense of humour and positivity that’s noticed and appreciated by staff members at the Kanata, Ont. long-term care home. Read more