Willows outbreak ends, team members recognized with staff appreciation day

Staff was honoured for their hard work and support for residents and each other

After a two-month COVID-19 outbreak ended at Willows Estate in late February, team members at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home were recognized for their hard work and commitment to residents and each other with a staff appreciation day on Feb. 25.

During the outbreak, Aimee Merkley, OMNI Health Care’s director of western operations, was the acting administrator at the Willows. From the day York Region Public Health declared the outbreak on Dec. 23, Aimee says Willows Estate team members worked hard to care for residents, ramp up infection, prevention and control measures, and support each other.

During the outbreak, Aimee worked closely with Doneath Stewart, who is acting director of care at the Willows, and Neil MacDonald, formally the nutritional care manager at Riverview Manor who was called in for assistance.

The efforts put forth by Doneath and Neil, as well as support from OMNI Health Care home office team members, helped residents and staff during this challenging time, Aimee says.

“There were many tough and emotional days during the outbreak, (but) staff pulled together and committed to the hard work required to ensure infection, prevention and control practices were observed and residents received the care and support they needed,” Aimee says.

Every time a resident case of COVID-19 was resolved, team members rang a bell on the unit, and “staff looked so forward to ringing the bell,” Aimee says.

When the outbreak officially ended Feb. 23, Silver Fox Pharmacy, an OMNI provider, supplied the Willows team with 100 cowbells to ensure everyone at the home had a bell to ring to signify the outbreak’s end.

Two days later, Aimee organized the staff appreciation day for team members working on all three shifts.

Staff members were treated to coffee and doughnuts from Tim Hortons as well as pizza and cupcakes. Everyone received T-shirts displaying the OMNI logo on the front and the words “tough times don’t last – tough teams do” on the back.

Community donations of Tim Hortons gift cards and gift bags were awarded for prizes during trivia games, and OMNI logo wear was also provided to draw winners.

Aimee says the appreciation day was well received by the Willows Estate team.

“They loved the day and were so appreciative of the recognition, which they truly deserved,” she says.

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Willows Estate nutritional care team taps into creativity to prepare Valentine’s Day dinner

‘We will continue to strive to make mealtime on special holidays equally memorable as other days’

The Willows Estate nutritional care team prepared a special Valentine’s Day dinner for residents of the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home that was as creative as it was delicious.

Nutritional care manager Davina Mesquito challenged the Willows Estate cooks to prepare a dinner and dessert that would include heart-shaped, cheese-filled ravioli and heart-shaped cookies.

The nutritional care team chose to serve the heart-shaped pasta in a creamy alfredo sauce alongside a serving of vegetables and garlic toast.

To end the meal, the team chose broken-glass Jell-O, a dessert consisting of different colours and flavours of Jell-O blocks that are set into chilled condensed milk. The broken-glass Jell-O was then cut into squares and each topped with a heart-shaped cookie.

Willows Estate has been impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak since Dec. 24. Provided there is no change in status, the outbreak is expected to end on Feb. 23.

With strict safety protocols in effect at the Willows, Davina says she and the nutritional care team wanted to do something special this Valentine’s Day for residents.

Preparing fancy meals, she says, is one way the team can make a meaningful difference to residents during a challenging time.

In addition to the special Valentine’s Day dinner, the nutritional care and life enrichment staff handed out heart-shaped goody bags filled with soft-textured chocolate for residents to enjoy.

The bags used were ones that could easily be wiped down and sanitized to keep in line with the COVID-19 safety requirements, Davina notes.

Davina says the Willows Estate nutritional care team takes pride in going the extra mile to ensure residents are served special meals.

“We will continue to strive to make mealtime on special holidays equally memorable as other days,” she says.

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Willows team honours co-worker with surprise bridal shower

‘In these trying times, people still finding ways to cheer one another is nothing short of great and graceful to witness’

In mid-December, Willows Estate nutritional care manager Davina Mesquito was getting ready to be married in the new year, and team members at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home wanted to make sure she had a memorable bridal shower as she opened a new chapter in her life.

Davina and her fiancé planned their wedding under strict safety conditions due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, explains Willows Estate life enrichment aide Azaria Kanda.

As a result of these precautions, Davina’s friends and colleagues at the Willows would not be able to attend.

Given that her colleagues at the Willows could not be with Davina on her special day, the Willows Estate team wanted to make sure she had a special celebration at the home, Azaria says.

Nutritional care aide Danita DelaCruz organized a surprise bridal shower for Davina at the Willows on Dec. 15. She baked a special cake for Davina and arranged to keep her preoccupied before the event started so she would be surprised.

Azaria explains how things unfolded next.

“Davina was pranked to believe she was needed out back for a food delivery from one of the food delivery trucks, only to be surprised with a decorated car outside with congratulatory ribbons, a wedding veil (and) cake,” he tells The OMNIway.

Azaria says Davina was indeed surprised by the party, which was held with everyone following safety guidelines.

Stories like this, he adds, demonstrate the positive impact that comes from people supporting one another during the pandemic.

“In these trying times, people still finding ways to cheer one another is nothing short of great and graceful to witness,” he says.

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‘Dancing Avon Lady’ spreads Christmas cheer at the Willows

Jessica Yik dropped off gift bags made possible by donations and paintings from local children in December

Christmas is the time for giving, and residents and staff members at Willows Estate are grateful for the generosity of local Avon sales representative Jessica Yik and others in the community who helped spread holiday cheer at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home in December.

In the days leading up to Christmas, Jessica, who calls herself the Dancing Avon Lady, turned to schools and the community in York Region to put together gift bags for area long-term care home residents.

With the help of donations, gift bags were put together and handed out. The gift bags contained items such as deodorant, lip balm and hand lotion.

There were enough gift bags for each Willows Estate resident as well as for staff members, says the home’s life enrichment co-ordinator Teddy Mazzuca.

Jessica also took her generous campaign to schools in the region and tasked students to create paintings for long-term-care home residents.

Jessica collected the students’ work and presented the art and the gift bags to Willows Estate just before Christmas.

“They are really nice paintings that we have hung on a wall here,” Teddy tells The OMNIway.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which began last March, has been challenging for residents and staff members at long-term care homes.

As a result of safety precautions in place, many long-term-care home residents have not been able to visit with their loved ones.

However, the kind gestures shown by the Dancing Avon Lady and the community during the holiday season helped brighten everyone’s day at the Willows, Teddy says.    

“This is the Christmas spirit.”

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Care aides bring emotional assistance and friendliness to Willows residents

‘Care aides have been an immense relief for primary caregivers in the home, but they’ve gone above and beyond to be also of assistance to residents directly,’ says LEA

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, resident care aides, who were hired to help the Willows Estate team in 2020, have been having a positive impact on residents and staff, says Azaria Kanda.

Azaria, a life enrichment aide (LEA) at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home, says the care aides at the Willows have done a lot to help during a difficult time.

Care aides have been hired by many Ontario long-term care homes since the pandemic began in March to help with tasks to reduce the workload on staff members.

But they have also been a strong value-add to residents, Azaria says.

“Care aides have been an immense relief for primary caregivers in the home, but they’ve gone above and beyond to be also of assistance to residents directly,” he tells The OMNIway.

Azaria says that aside from the help they have provided team members, care aides have taken it upon themselves to engage in social activities with residents.

Care aides, he notes, have helped with garden visits, one-on-one visits, card games, music therapy and small group chats with the residents.

Most importantly, residents have provided the Willows Estate team with lots of feedback that has been “overwhelmingly positive and appreciative” about the benefits care aides have offered, Azaria says.

“The residents speak highly of the care aides to me and are very grateful to have them come in the home,” Azaria says.

“Even though this is temporary in the duration of the pandemic, their presence is welcome by all.”

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Willows team keeping holiday spirits high for residents

From organizing FaceTime calls to taking Christmas photos, the team has been working hard to enhance quality of life for everyone

With Christmas right around the corner, the life enrichment team at Willows Estate has been busy getting residents into the holiday spirit and helping them make the most of the festive season.

Azaria Kanda, a life enrichment aide at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home, says team members have been busy decorating and setting up a Christmas tree, and residents have received lots of candy canes, popcorn, chocolates and other delicacies “to celebrate the joys of the holidays.”

“Things have been quite busy here at the Willows,” he tells The OMNIway. “In preparation for Christmas and new years, all month long we are keeping up with celebratory spirits all around the home.”

Additionally, Azaria says the team has been busy scheduling FaceTime calls between residents and their loved ones throughout December to keep spirits high and promote safety during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Willows team also organized a photoshoot by the Christmas tree for residents to have their pictures taken.

Azaria says that while it has been a lot of work for the Willows team, the effort has been well worth it.

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Willows Estate residents and staff partake in weekend of Halloween fun

‘Overall, this short but fun celebration of Halloween uplifted their spirits’

Willows Estate residents enjoyed a Halloween celebration at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home on the weekend that featured costumes, a variety of treats, jack-o’-lanterns and a whole lot of fun and laughter.

Halloween is a favourite annual event at many long-term care homes, and Willows Estate residents and staff members went all out to celebrate the spookiest day of the year, says life enrichment aide (LEA) Azaria Kanda.

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, activities were held in smaller groups and socially distanced, but the spirit of the day was as vibrant as ever.

Azaria says the Willows Estate team “wanted to create the ambience of fun and celebration” for the residents.

There was also complimentary chocolate lava cake as well as tea and coffee and trick-or-treat bags for residents to pick up before they left the party.

Azaria, who organized the event with LEA Bobbi Jo Wright and the life enrichment team, says residents enjoyed their Halloween weekend.

“They were ecstatic and elated to see us dressed the part, (with) spooky music playing in the background and socializing among themselves and staff as well,” he tells The OMNIway.

“Overall, this short but fun celebration of Halloween uplifted their spirits.”

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Baking season returns to the Willows

Residents bake 5 apple pies for recent tea social

At Willows Estate, autumn is baking season, says life enrichment aide (LEA) Azaria Kanda.

“As the weather cools, the leaves turn yellow, red and fall, it’s the perfect time to bake all the good old homemade pies and cakes to warm our hearts,” he tells The OMNIway.

With LEA Rosalie Patchell supervising, a group of residents at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home were recently busy preparing and baking five apple pies that were served during a tea social on Oct. 18.

Aside from the residents’ work resulting in delicious apple pies for everyone to enjoy, baking also brought back many fond memories for the residents, Azaria says.

“These ladies, along with Rosalie, were socializing while reminiscing about their own former baking hobbies, family gatherings and much more,” he says.

“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. You can feel the exhilaration and pure joy as one is in charged 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.”

Azaria adds that activities like this also bring back a valuable sense of accomplishment for residents, who know the fruits of their labour were enjoyed by many.

“No matter how old you are or where you sit in life, you want to feel like you are making a contribution to society or even a small living circle,” he says.

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Willows Estate card group thrilled to playing kings in the corner again

After seven months, the group ‘wasted no time’ in starting up again, says LEA

Recently, for the first time since the global COVID-19 pandemic began, a group of dedicated resident card players at Willows Estate were given the green light to resume playing their favourite game, kings in the corner.

“The group hasn’t been able to play together in so long, given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic,” Willows Estate life enrichment aide (LEA) Azaria Kanda tells The OMNIway.

“When our director of care, Allan (Nixon), gave the thumbs-up to gather small groups back to enjoy card night, they wasted no time signing up to join in for a fun playtime.”

Azaria says playing cards has many benefits for residents of the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home.

“Beyond being a fun pastime, it is also a time for this group particularly to catch up on various happenings in their lives, family, friends, and of course, a little dose of gossip,” Azaria says with a chuckle.

The group recently welcomed a new member into the fold, resident Anthony Smallman. While Anthony had not played kings in the corner before, the residents who are more seasoned in its rules have been taking time to teach him, and his progress is coming along, Azaria says.

“The group, which is predominantly ladies, has been instrumental in not only teaching Anthony the game but also patiently allowing him to learn it, Azaria says.

“He now plays it like a pro and looks forward to playing with the bunch.”

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If you can’t bring residents to a tea social, then bring a tea social to residents

Willows Estate LEA Azaria Kanda has an idea to modify a resident-favourite program during the pandemic

Being creative and thinking outside the box are valuable assets to people working in long-term-care home life enrichment departments, and during these challenging times, those attributes are especially valuable.

Willows Estate life enrichment aide (LEA) Azaria Kanda has a long track record of delivering creative programs to the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home’s residents, and one idea he’s planning to implement is to host mobile tea socials for residents.

Azaria says tea socials are popular with Willows Estate residents, but large-group programming is currently on hold due to restrictions in place to keep everyone safe during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the pandemic was declared in March, Willows Estate residents were having regular tea socials on Sundays in the dining room.

Since safety restrictions do not allow the tea socials to continue as large-group programs, Azaria’s plan is to stock a cart with tea, coffee and snacks and go room to room to offer residents the refreshments they would normally have at a tea social.

“When confronted with something like a pandemic or any other kind of limitation, you have to up your game and find new ways to do activities for the residents, the things they like,” Azaria tells The OMNIway.

“I thought about doing a tea social on wheels, so (I can) bring it up to them in a safe manner. It’s a small modification, but it’s delivering a program the residents enjoy.”

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