This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Julie Horton, a Recreation Therapy Assistant at our Welland Extended Care Unit in Welland.
It's the creative ways our Extended Care Unit team is connecting residents with their loved ones that has been most inspiring for Julie Horton during the pandemic.
With a no-visitors policy in effect to keep everyone safe at the long-term care home at our Welland Site, the team is finding other ways for residents to stay in touch with their families, including daily FaceTime video chats and window visits.
Staff also recently helped a resident celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife. They made cupcakes, a beautiful sign and left flowers and balloons outside the front door for the resident's wife when she arrived for the “window celebration" of their golden anniversary.
“Everyone on our team is going the extra mile to keep residents connected," says Julie, who has worked as a Recreation Therapy Assistant at the Extended Care Unit (ECU) for 13 years.
During the pandemic, Niagara Health has taken extra precautions to keep ECU residents and staff safe. Every day, staff are screened for COVID-19 symptoms. All residents were recently tested for COVID for the second time and no one tested positive. Staff wear surgical masks in the home, there is enhanced cleaning and the recreation therapy team is doing more one-on-one activities with residents and small-group activities (five people or less) while always maintaining the two metres of physical distancing.
How is your role different during the pandemic?
In recreation therapy, we have a very social role. We provide all of the programming in the home, like the bingo, music and other big social activities every day. Now we're going from these big-group programs to very small groups with everyone at least six feet apart and more one-to-one visits with residents. A lot of our residents are missing their families, so we are providing more emotional support to them right now. They're also missing the socialization with their friends within the home.
What is the most challenging part working during the pandemic?
The hardest thing for me personally is keeping my emotions in check. Our residents have a lot of FaceTime video chats and we have people outside of windows wanting to hug their loved ones and the residents say, 'Why can't we hug them. We just need a hug.' It's not easy. We try to do what families would have done if they were visiting and provide them comfort and support. We also do the residents' hair because our hairdresser cannot come in. We're curling hair, we're doing manicures and it makes us happy to do that.
What does it mean to you to fill the void during a time when families cannot visit?
That's what we are here to do. We all go out of our way to help our residents the best that we can. It makes me feel good. We always go above and beyond for our residents, but especially more so right now because their families cannot visit.
Describe your team in the Extended Care Unit?
Our team works so well together. Right now, we are always looking at ways of how we can incorporate the things that our residents love back into their day. It's a really good work environment and everyone has each other's backs. If one person is busy with a resident, then the other will go and do the FaceTime call with another resident. We have three IPads on the go with calls constantly happening. Our days are full of FaceTime calls.
What's the most challenging part personally for you during the pandemic?
With my two children not being in school right now, and with me working in the daytime, that is a challenge. After work, you go home, cook dinner and do homework because the kids don't always do what they're supposed to when mom's not home. My husband is still working lots of hours, too. Thankfully we are still both working, and, fortunately, we have a really good support system.
Click on the In It Together button below to read more stories about our team.