Cooking for LTC residents is a career that makes a difference, says Willows’ NCM

‘It’s the passion for the residents – I love working for them,’ says Jeffrey Peters

Jeffrey Peters started his culinary career working in the kitchens of what he describes as the “fast-paced world” of restaurants, hotels and catering services.

Then, six years ago, he decided to make a career change and use his skills in a way that would positively impact people’s quality of life.

He began working in long-term care and retirement homes and hasn’t looked back.

“My passion for the residents (drives me),” Jeffrey, who became the nutritional care manager (NCM) at Willows Estate in April, tells The OMNIway.

“It has been about coming into health care and bringing a fine dining experience and quality. … It’s the passion for the residents – I love working for them.”

Jeffrey says the atmosphere at Willows Estate is “homey,” and residents and staff members are like family.

“The people here are very nice and very welcoming, and this is a very nice place to grow,” he says.

Jeffrey says the shift from working in restaurants to working in a long-term care home has been “a wonderful change,” not only because it affords him an opportunity to make a difference to residents, but also because it has provided him with more time with his family and better quality of life.

Jeffrey underscores the importance of people being passionate about their work, particularly in long-term care. When people put their heart into their work in a long-term care home it’s reflected in residents’ quality of life, he says.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re working in a five-star restaurant or cooking for one person, you have to put your heart into what you’re doing.”

Outside of the kitchen, Jeffrey is also a musician. At the previous long-term care home where he worked, Jeffrey would sometimes leave the kitchen and entertain residents by playing piano.

He has also been known to sing for residents and do mini concerts, which is how he earned the nickname the “singing chef.”

“I love music and I love to cook, and I can’t give them both up, so I merge them both together,” he says.

– This is Part 2 of a two-part story. Click here to read Part 1.

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Photo caption: A sample of the desserts made at Willows Estate by nutritional care manager Jeffrey Peters and his team.

Return of safe, small-group programs has been a ‘huge blessing’ for Willows residents

Bingo and other resident-favourite activities are being held with safety measures in place

Willows Estate has been able to bring back some of residents’ favourite activities by hosting programs in small groups of five residents or less with other measures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, in place to keep everyone safe during the pandemic.

While safety is still top of mind and safety protocols remain in place, being able to adapt programming to small groups has been a “huge blessing for our residents,” says life enrichment co-ordinator Teddy Mazzuca.

Bingo, which Teddy says has long been the most popular program among people living at the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home, is one of the activities that has been brought back in small groups.

In addition to playing the game in small groups with everyone wearing masks and socially distanced, there is also Plexiglas separating residents at tables for extra safety.

“(Bingo is) their favourite program, and even with only groups of five residents playing, you can still run the program by making it fun and upbeat,” Teddy says.

Another resident-favourite activity is the Willows’ bowling program, which returned to the schedule about three weeks ago. Like other programs, the bowling activity is hosted in groups of five residents or less with safety measures in place.

To ensure all residents wishing to participate get a chance, the activity is held a few times a day when it’s on the schedule to ensure everyone gets a turn.

Some residents, Teddy notes, have been struggling to understand what has been going on during the pandemic, but staff members have always been there to provide the emotional support that has been so crucial.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is still a major concern and safety measures remain fully in place, Teddy says there’s also a sense of hope among residents and staff.

“Slowly it is going to get better for all of us,” she says.

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Willows Estate honours all staff during Nursing Week

Local florist covers half the cost of succulents team members received to celebrate their hard work

Willows Estate staff members have been showing outstanding dedication to the residents they serve and to each other throughout the COVID-19 pandemic which made National Nursing Week celebrations even more important this year.

National Nursing Week was May 10 to 16. Like OMNI Health Care’s other 17 long-term care homes, Willows Estate celebrates Nursing Week every year by honouring all staff members working in every department.

“We celebrate all staff in all departments, and that’s important,” Teddy Mazzuca, the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home’s life enrichment co-ordinator, tells The OMNIway.

“It was a celebration to honour the staff for all the work they have been doing. … As often as we can, it’s important for us to appreciate staff.”

During National Nursing Week, Willows Estate team members were treated to fresh cookies that were individually wrapped, and everyone received a succulent plant from a local florist, Flowers By Terry.

In fact, to show support for the Willows Estate team, Flowers By Terry covered 50 per cent of the cost of the succulents that were given to staff members, Teddy notes, adding the florist’s generosity was greatly appreciated by all.

Held the week of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale’s birthday on May 12 every year since 1965, National Nursing Week aims to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions nurses make to our health-care system.

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Resident engagement and using fresh ingredients are top of mind for Willows Estate’s new NCM

‘I always take time to hear residents’ needs,’ says Jeffrey Peters

There are two things Jeffrey Peters has kept top of mind since becoming Willows Estate’s nutritional care manager (NCM) in April: engaging residents to ensure meals are of the highest quality and using fresh ingredients to create from-scratch meals that taste great.

Mealtimes are often the most important part of a resident’s day; this is something Jeffrey knows well from his six years of working in long-term care and retirement homes.

And this is why since becoming the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home’s NCM Jeffrey has made a point of spending as much time as he can speaking with residents.

He says he wants to be involved with every aspect of residents’ dining experience to ensure it’s of the highest standard.

“I make sure that my presence is always present – even when I have (other work to do), I go in (the dining room) and ask if there’s anything the residents need; I find out their likes, their dislikes,” he tells The OMNIway.

To ensure quality meals are always being served, Jeffrey says compliments and criticism are equally important.

If a resident does not enjoy a stew, for example, Jeffrey will ask them what it was they didn’t like about the stew. Perhaps it needed more meat or more vegetables. Whatever input the resident can offer will be considered when preparing the stew next time.

“I get those ideas and I put them together and then I create a better and more effective meal for the residents,” he says.

As important as it is to engage residents to keep the standard of meals high, it’s also important to use fresh, quality ingredients, Jeffrey says.

Shortly after becoming NCM, Jeffrey began focusing on creating more from-scratch menu options made with fresh ingredients.

For example, residents enjoy melon, so Jeffrey has been ordering fresh melon. Other items are now being made from scratch, including soups, potato salad and five-bean salad.

When residents’ choice meals are coming up, Jeffrey engages residents to discover what they want – and from fresh fish to lamb to burgers, he and his team will create those meals.

“I always take time to hear residents’ needs,” he says.

This approach has worked well, Jeffrey says.

“So far, everybody has been happy. The No. 1 thing is the residents want to be heard. I respect that, and that’s what I give them.”

– More to come

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Willows Estate NCM goes the distance to create memorable Mother’s Day

For his first Mother’s Day at the home, Jeffrey Peters and his team prepared a top-notch lunch and dinner for residents

For his first Mother’s Day as Willows Estate’s nutritional care manager (NCM), Jeffrey Peters wanted to make sure residents of the Aurora, Ont. long-term care home were served meals all day that would be huge hits.

“I wanted the food to be extravagant; I wanted the food to stand out,” he tells The OMNIway.

Jeffrey and the nutritional care team at the Willows created special menus for lunch and dinner on Mother’s Day, which was on May 9.

For lunch, residents had the choice of reuben sandwiches, accompanied by a strawberry spinach salad with a citrus vinaigrette dressing, or a classic grilled chicken caesar salad with a homemade dressing topped with croutons and grated Parmesan cheese with garlic bread and an ambrosia salad.

Jeffrey wanted every meal to be of the highest quality possible so all servings were made to order.

While lunch may have been spectacular, dinner, Jeffrey says, was “the big shebang, it was the grand finale.”

For dinner, Jeffrey and the nutritional care team prepared two options. The first was a chicken breast stuffed with spinach, onion, aromatic herbs and cheese which was served with Parisienne potatoes and grilled asparagus.

The second option was roasted vegetables served over tri-coloured pasta in a two-cheese rosé sauce.

Jeffrey and the nutritional care team also prepared herb-garlic roasted shrimp. For dessert, residents were served homemade chocolate brownie cupcakes.

The meals and desserts served at lunch and dinner were made from scratch, Jeffrey says, adding the nutritional care team and other staff members all worked together to ensure residents enjoyed their meals.

“I have really wonderful staff that helped out here,” he says.

Residents’ compliments on the meals came in droves.

“It was overwhelming,” Jeffrey says. “People really appreciated it. They were calling back saying everything was so good.”

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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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