Will (left) moved to Kensington in 2018 and his wife, Elizabeth (right), is a member of Family Council.
Families are an essential partner at The Gardens, Kensington Health’s long-term care home. In any normal year, family members would visit daily and take part in events, activities and care for their loved ones. But in March, COVID-19 limited visits to the home. While the limitations developed by the Ministry of Long-term Care helped protect our community, it left many families feeling closed off.
The Gardens has found many ways to bring families back – from virtual visits to hiring family members as unit aids – but Family Council played an important role in bring unity to the home.
Family Council is an informal meeting, held regularly, for people to meet, learn, receive support and, most importantly, discuss opportunities for improvement in the home. Often, the attendees are the family members, friends and caregivers of residents at The Gardens looking to create positive change.
Lucia Rocha is the President of Family Council and has been part of the Kensington community for the past 16 years. She is looking forward to a post-pandemic life but understands that it may be a long time away. During this disruption, Lucia has been an open ear to those who have reached out with ideas and questions.
“I’ve been living on my phone, talking to different families to help answer their questions, relay feedback, be a private ear or have a friendly conversation,” says Lucia. “The pandemic has been difficult for families, and especially those who attend Family Council. It’s gathering where we can meet, have a snack, coffee, laugh and cry. We’ve become a family to each other, and not meeting with each other is tough.”
Lucia, along with Christina Black, Social Worker at The Gardens, has been working tirelessly behind-the-scenes to get the Council back on schedule. Physical distancing was the biggest hurdle that had to be re-evaluated, but like most things, they found the answer to that problem in video technology.
After an eight-month break, on November 4, Family Council held a trial meeting. A couple regular members safely met on Zoom, resuming where they left off while testing the efficiencies of using a new method to communicate. Going forward, the Council plans to meet virtually every last Thursday of the month as they did in the past, continuing their goal of supporting families and long-term care.
Kensington Health Social Worker, Christina, offers tips to families who might be struggling over the holidays and missing their loved ones in long term care.
A difficult transition for families
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult adjustment for the loved ones of residents. Prior to COVID, visitors were plentiful at The Gardens. These days, visitation is restricted to essential visitors and caregivers.
“I used to visit The Gardens six days a week and my husband would come home with me every weekend,” says Elizabeth, family member, and member of Family Council. “I was very involved with his care and when the pandemic began, I found myself in a difficult position of not being able to help. I felt out of the loop and I didn’t want to bother the staff that were working extra hard on the floor to keep everyone safe.”
Through the pandemic, Kensington visitation has changed with Ministry guidelines. A new virtual visitation program was introduced helping families stay in touch over video, and while COVID-19 case numbers were low during the summer, safe, physically distanced outdoor and indoor visitation brought some normalcy back to the home. These days, Toronto is in lockdown again and The Gardens is limited to one essential caregiver per resident.
“It’s hard not to see someone that you really care about for such a long period of time with no real feeling on how things are going for them. Coming in as an essential caregiver has helped not only Will, but me as well,” says Elizabeth. “While there can be room for improvement as we learn more about the virus and how to safely get back to normal resident activities, what I see these days is that everyone’s trying their best to keep the community safe.”