EDITORIAL: Despite pandemic, things are looking up in 2021

Although we have entered the third wave of COVID-19, and despite the challenges we continue to face as health-care providers in the midst of a pandemic, there are many positive things to report in the first quarter of 2021.

The best news for OMNI Health Care so far this year has been the arrival of vaccines to help protect our long-term-care home residents and staff members against the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.

Most residents living in OMNI’s 18 long-term care homes have now received both required doses of the vaccines, and staff vaccinations are also well underway.

Since January, when the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines became available, OMNI homes and local public health units have shown outstanding collaboration to ensure every resident wishing to be immunized received the vaccine.

While vigilance will continue to be required, with the vast majority of OMNI residents now vaccinated we have taken a huge step forward on the path back to normality.

There has also been some great news this year with respect to the redevelopment of OMNI homes.

Most recently, the Ontario government announced that funding has been approved to build a new 192-bed long-term care home in Cobourg to replace Streamway Villa.

Streamway Villa is the latest OMNI long-term care home to receive approval for redevelopment. There are six other homes that have now been approved for redevelopment, and construction is well underway at three of these homes: Almonte Country Haven, Pleasant Meadow Manor and Woodland Villa.

Redevelopment projects to renovate Country Terrace and build a new Riverview Manor in Peterborough will also begin this year, while the first phase of planning for the construction of a new Village Green in Greater Napanee will also begin.

Through all the ups and downs the past year has brought, the people working in our long-term care homes continue to be stalwart supporters of residents.

With changing circumstances throughout the pandemic, residents have had to adapt to the challenges that come with safety restrictions, but they have been supported along the way by staff members who have shown their love and kindness at every turn.

Through the creative programs they design that meet safety requirements, to organizing safe visits with families, to one-to-one time they spend with residents who need someone to talk with, the people working in our homes have, perhaps more than ever, been living OMNI’s mission of bringing hope, purpose and belonging to health care.

While these may be challenging times, there’s a lot to be thankful for.

OMNI joins CaRES Fund to help families of senior living workers financially impacted by COVID-19

Launched in 2020, the CaRES Fund has provided more than $2.3 million to help support 679 Canadian caregivers and their families

OMNI Health Care announced today it has joined a partnership launched last year by four other long-term care providers to offer one-time financial relief to those working in senior living residences across Canada who require assistance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senior Living CaRES Fund was created by long-term care and retirement home providers Chartwell, Revera, Extendicare and Sienna (CaRES) in May 2020 to help people working for any provider of long-term care or retirement homes in Canada whose families have been financially impacted by the pandemic.

Southbridge Care Homes, a Cambridge, Ont.-based provider of long-term care and retirement homes, also joined the partnership today.

Patrick McCarthy, OMNI Health Care’s president and CEO, says OMNI understands the financial impact the pandemic has had on many Canadian families, including the families of people working in the long-term care sector.

OMNI wanted to join the partnership to help support those families and the employees who have dedicated themselves to caring for long-term care and retirement home residents during a challenging and uncertain time, he says.

“The CaRES Fund has supported hundreds of dedicated senior living employees from across the country,” McCarthy says.

“We look forward to joining the founding partners in supporting hundreds more in 2021.”

Applicants are eligible to receive up to $10,000 through the fund. To date, more than $2.3 million has been awarded to 679 people working in Canadian long-term care and retirement homes.

The CaRES Fund offers grants, not loans, so monies awarded do not need to be repaid.

The CaRES Fund will continue offering financial assistance to senior living residence employees facing financial challenges throughout 2021 by reviewing applications every quarter.

Applications for the first-quarter review open today (March 22) and close April 9.

Click here for more information on the CaRES Fund.

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2021 Nutrition Month campaign focusing on how healthy eating is different for everyone

When it comes to healthy eating, there is no one-size-fits-all approach because everyone is different.

That’s the key message behind this year’s Nutrition Month, which is acknowledged across Canada throughout March. The theme for this year’s Nutrition Month is “Good for you – dietitians help you find your healthy.”

The campaign, which is organized by Dietitians of Canada, looks at how culture, health conditions and personal circumstances all come into play when it comes to individual meal plans.

Nutrition Month is focusing this year on how healthy eating can be incorporated into everyone’s life while adhering to cultural traditions, health plans and personal circumstances.

Long-term care homes, for instance, are reflective of society at large, since every resident’s nutritional needs and preferences are different.

In a section of this year’s Nutrition Month activity guide focused on long-term care residents, registered dietitian Christine Francis notes how promoting quality of life is at the centre of the work long-term care homes do – and quality mealtimes are a top priority for residents.

Residents living in many long-term care homes, including OMNI Health Care homes, have menu choices at every mealtime that meet daily nutritional requirements. Offering these options is important to residents, both on a personal level and a nutritional level, writes Francis, who has experience working with residents of long-term care homes.

“Having a choice between menu options and entrees creates a sense of belonging and autonomy for the residents, while allowing them to still feel involved in their care and decision making.”

The activity guide recommends several ways stakeholders can get involved with Nutrition Month. These include using social media, trying new recipes and having conversations about nutrition.

You can look out for the hashtags #NutritionMonth and #FindYourHealthy on social media to learn the latest news on this year’s campaign.

For more information on this year’s Nutrition Month campaign, click here to access the 2021 activity guide.

What is your long-term care home doing to support Nutrition Month? If you have a story to share, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

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OMNI applauds the province’s creation of a tuition-free PSW program

The Accelerated PSW Training Program is aiming to provide free tuition to 6,000 people interested in careers as PSWs in an effort to improving health care staffing levels

OMNI Health Care is applauding a move from the Ontario government to launch a program that will provide tuition-free training to those interested in careers as personal support workers (PSWs).

The province announced Feb. 24 that more than $115 million has been earmarked to create the Accelerated PSW Training Program in the hope of attracting 6,000 new students.

The program will be offered at Ontario’s 24 publicly assisted colleges.

PSW training typically takes eight months for students to complete, but students enrolled in this accelerated program will complete their studies after six months.

Patrick McCarthy, OMNI’s president and CEO, says the organization is commending this initiative, which aims to alleviate staffing shortages in the long-term care and acute care sectors.

Like other long-term care providers, OMNI, which operates 18 homes in the province, has felt pressure from the shortage of front-line caregivers, and McCarthy says the government’s announcement is timely.

“We are very pleased to see the announcement of this initiative by the government,” he says.

“The cost of tuition is a major entry barrier to those wishing to pursue a career in long-term care, and this will help to create a cohort of trained PSWs that is much needed in long-term care homes today and in the future.”

Additionally, the Ontario government announced last Wednesday it will be offering financial assistance to students currently enrolled in a PSW program at any of the province’s publicly assisted colleges.

“Nearly 2,200 students will be eligible to receive a $2,000 tuition grant to help them complete their studies, as well as a stipend to complete the clinical placement part of their training,” the province said in the announcement.

Registration for the Accelerated PSW Training Program is expected to begin in March. Those interested in registering for the program can click here for more information.

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Vaccination clinics begin at OMNI homes

Residents of most homes have received their first COVID-19 vaccination and some have now received the second dose

Since January, most of OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes have hosted clinics to administer the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination to residents, and residents of some homes have now received the vaccine’s required second dose.

The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Since then, people working in the long-term care sector have put tireless efforts into keeping residents and their co-workers safe, and infection, prevention and control protocols have been ramped up.

While the pandemic continues to be a major concern and safety protocols remain top of mind, the vaccination clinics that have been held in OMNI homes have brought the first sign of life starting to return to normal, say staff members.

Although the vaccine is a major step forward in keeping residents safe from the highly contagious COVID-19 virus, homes will continue to exercise precautions for some time.

Located in Kanata, Ont., Forest Hill was one of the first OMNI long-term care homes to have residents receive a primary dose of the vaccine. Paramedics from the local public health unit administered the vaccine to residents on Jan. 14.

“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,” Forest Hill life enrichment co-ordinator Craig Forrest recently told The OMNIway.

All residents of Almonte Country Haven in Lanark County have also received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. On Jan. 28, a team from the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit was at the home to administer the vaccine with the help of Almonte Country Haven staff.

After each resident received the vaccination, they were given a special badge to wear that read, “I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine,” and were then brought to the front of the home where a public health unit nurse was standing by to ensure they were experiencing no side effects.

“It was all hands on deck and all of our staff were involved in supporting the recommended half-hour observation period to ensure that any possible reaction was swiftly identified and dealt with,” Almonte Country Haven administrator Carolyn Della Foresta said in an e-mail sent the day of the vaccinations.

The Ontario government is aiming to immunize all long-term-care home residents who have given consent as soon as possible. Initially, the province set a Feb. 5 deadline to have all long-term-care home residents vaccinated; however, that target could not be met due to delays in supply lines, so the deadline has been extended into February.

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.

Vaccines offer hope for pandemic’s end, but it’s staff who will get us there

It has been 11 months since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization, but 2021 is starting with a sign of hope in the form of two vaccines that have become available in Ontario and are being introduced in phases.

Long-term-care home residents, staff members and essential caregivers are amongst the first in line to receive the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which are being administered in the province’s 14 public health units.

People living and working at several of OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes have now received the vaccine to help protect them from the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.

In January, the Ontario government announced that due to delays in shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, all available doses are being directed to the province’s long-term care and retirement communities in an effort to protect the most vulnerable segment of the population.

While the vaccines are the first step towards bringing normality back to OMNI long-term-care home residents and their families, we still have a way to go before things are back to the way they were.

As it has been up to this point, it will be the people working in OMNI’s long-term care homes who will be navigating each home’s journey into post-pandemic times.

The vaccine helps protect immune systems, but it’s the staff members who keep residents’ emotional health strong and spirits high.

And they have done an outstanding job.

With safety precautions in effect, this past holiday season was especially challenging for residents and their loved ones to be separated during what is usually a time for families being together.

But staff members and communities showed tremendous compassion for residents during the holidays, as evidenced by the stories we have published in The OMNIway.

While the vaccine may be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, it has been the passion OMNI long-term-care home staff members have for their work that has kept residents’ quality of life as high as possible.

The value of their service to residents and families during what has been the most challenging year in recent memory cannot be understated.

Their dedication will continue to carry us forward.

OMNI home redevelopment projects move forward in 2020

A major success for OMNI Health Care in 2020 was the move forward on three redevelopment projects, the announcement of a new home redevelopment project for Village Green and additional funding to expand the redevelopment project for the new Riverview Manor.

Construction has now started on the expansion of three OMNI long-term are homes: Pleasant Meadow Manor, Almonte Country Haven and Woodland Villa.

Once completed, these will all be Class A homes and will feature a wide range of modern amenities, such as wider hallways, more home-like dining and lounge spaces, and privacy for residents will be improved by having only one- and two-bed rooms.

During a Nov. 16 groundbreaking ceremony at Pleasant Meadow Manor, Sandra Tucker, the Norwood long-term care home’s administrator, said residents are especially looking forward to having more space, once the project, which will expand Pleasant Meadow by 34,000 square feet, is completed.

“They’re looking forward to the new rooms and having no more than two to a room,” she said.

Meanwhile, the province announced in November that funding has been approved to build a new Village Green in Greater Napanee that will have 128 beds, 62 more than the home currently has.

While there is no confirmation on when construction on the new Village Green will start or be completed, administrator Linda Pierce said a tentative site for the home is being considered on the west side of Lennox and Addington County Road 41.

Pierce said the new Class A Village Green, once completed, will enhance quality of life for residents and staff members.

“From bathing to dining experiences, everything will be enhanced,” she said. “Everything, in my opinion, will be more favourable to resident care and to the quality of life of the resident and the quality of life of the worker.”

Pierce added that the redeveloped Village Green will be a community asset because the additional 62 beds will help minimize waiting times for people in the region requiring long-term care.

There has also been good news for Riverview Manor.

The province announced in November that funding has been approved to add 32 beds to the 36 new beds that were promised in December 2018 for the rebuilt Peterborough long-term care home.

Riverview Manor’s current location on Water Street has 124 beds. Construction on the new Riverview Manor, which will be nearby on Langton Street in Peterborough’s north end, will likely start in 2021 and will take about two years to build.

During a virtual press conference on Nov. 20, Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith said the additional 32 beds Riverview Manor will receive will improve access for people in the region who require long-term care.

“Our seniors deserve quality care in the communities they live in,” he said.

“This is why (this) announcement of more new beds is so important. We are working to reduce wait times and meet the needs of our aging population now and in the future.”

Life enrichment teams’ creativity keeping spirits high

Keeping spirits high for long-term-care home residents during such challenging times is important to maintaining quality of life, and life enrichment team members in OMNI Health Care homes have been proving they have what it takes to develop meaningful, creative programming.

Willows Estate recently started its baking program again, much to the delight of residents who enjoy making pies and other sweets. Recently, residents at the Aurora long-term care home got to bake apple pies that were served at a tea social.

Aside from the residents’ work resulting in delicious apple pies for everyone to enjoy, baking also brought back many fond memories for the residents, says life enrichment aide (LEA) Azaria Kanda.

“It is such a delight to watch these ladies fully immersed in this activity, for we know how much this has a positive effect on people,” he says.

“You can feel the exhilaration and pure joy as one is in charge of peeling the apples, while one is working on the dough and the other is helping set up the trays in preparation for the baking.”

At Kentwood Park in Picton, LEA Brandy Courtney recently created a safe, autumn-themed craft program for residents to participate in during the pandemic and to celebrate the changing of seasons.

Residents were provided with a paper template drawing of a tree with leafless branches. The goal of the activity was for residents to paint fall leaf colours – yellow, orange, red and brown – on the trees.

A small group of residents was provided with paint and a special tool to dab colours on the trees: broccoli.

Dabbing pieces of the vegetable into the paint to stamp on the tree branches created a realistic pattern of vibrant autumn colours, Brandy says.

“Making these colourful fall trees with the residents and using a healthy snack to do it, well, you can’t get any better than that,” Brandy says.

At Frost Manor in Lindsay, LEA Sarah Thayer recently revamped a painting program that was first led by LEA Kim Williams – who is now life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) at Pleasant Meadow Manor – and was popular with residents.

The program starts with Sarah creating a drawing that serves as a model, and the residents create their own painting based on that drawing.

The first time Sarah led the program for residents she painted a birch tree. For October, the model will be a silhouette of a cat sitting on a tree branch. November will feature a Remembrance Day poppy.

“The great thing is we can do this socially distanced, which works out really well,” says Frost Manor LEC Lyndsay Burton, adding the program has been “going over really well.”

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2020 hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned a lot

There’s no softer way to say it, 2020 has been a challenging year.

For the first time in a century, the world has been dealing with a large-scale pandemic that has changed the way we live, work and spend our free time.

For those working in the greater health-care sector, 2020 has been especially challenging. Front-line workers have had to adapt like no one else in the workforce to keep the coronavirus in check.

Work life and family life have been greatly impacted for health-care workers, who have had to adapt to the changing circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.

We have seen this first-hand at OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes, and we are grateful for the sacrifices team members have made – both personal and professional.

But for all the challenges and anxieties this year has brought, there has also been a lot we have learned as a collective team.

When the pandemic was declared in March, we learned how much local communities value our long-term care homes when kind letters, cards and complimentary meals began showing up for our teams.

Being physically distanced from those we care about is never easy, but we learned how supportive and understanding family members were when they could not visit their loved ones due to safety restrictions in place at long-term care homes for the first three months of the pandemic.

Providing residents in our long-term care homes with a high quality of life is the most important part of our work. Throughout 2020, we learned how creative and innovative our team members are – even under the most challenging of circumstances – when it came to providing residents meaningful programs, meals they enjoy and the care they expect.

And despite the staffing shortages affecting the Ontario long-term care sector at large, we learned how well we come together when our residents need us most.

We are still living through the pandemic, and there will be more challenges ahead. The good news is we are on the right path. We have proven that time and time again throughout 2020.

Homes keeping people connected during pandemic

Teams develop creative ways to keep everyone in the loop

Members of the Frost Manor family council are pictured here during a video conference.

While the global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in restrictions that affect visitation in long-term care homes, creative thinking on the part of OMNI Health Care team members is helping keep families and volunteers connected.

At Streamway Villa, life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) Laurie Kracht and life enrichment aide Chelsea Tinney have created a Facebook page to keep residents’ family members updated regularly on the activities and programs their loved ones are participating in at the Cobourg, Ont. long-term care home.

Knowing residents’ families are interested in the activities offered, Laurie and Chelsea have been uploading photos and videos of socially-distanced activities and of the residents themselves to keep families up to date during the pandemic.

Family engagement on the Facebook page has been strong, Laurie says, adding family members often provide content to share.

“Families have started sending us pictures through Facebook Messenger, and we started posting those, and we’re getting e-mails left, right and centre (from family members) saying they love the page,” she says.

“I’ve had comments from family members saying (the Facebook page) makes them feel like they’re there and they know what’s going on.”

Given the changes happening in the long-term care sector due to the pandemic and the fact that family councils have not been able to meet inside long-term care homes since March, Frost Manor has been keeping its family council members and volunteers up to date on the latest news at the home by sending them the monthly activities and special events calendar.

This, says LEC Lyndsay Burton, is helping “keep the conversations flowing.”

Family council and volunteers are particularly interested in activities, events and programs, so the team wanted to keep everyone in the fold, she adds.

Lyndsay says there are a few members of Frost Manor’s family council who have stayed on the council even though they no longer have a loved one living at the home. This, she says, speaks to the value of the connections family members make with the Frost Manor team.

“We talk about the programs and what we are doing in detail,” Lyndsay says. “I will send a copy of our newsletter, especially if they don’t have a resident living here anymore, because they’ll be missing those things.”

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