Published on 9 Oct 2020

Safe at Home is more than a campaign; it’s the future of healthcare

Kaelen Bray, 
Director, Nursing and Allied Health, Ottawa

October marks the beginning of a new campaign for Carefor – a campaign we call Safe at Home. This is the brain child of an organization that has lived and breathed the sheer value and positive impact of what it truly means to keep our frail older adults living longer, happier and more fulfilling lives in their place of choice, their homes, for over a 100+ years.Carefor home care staff keeping seniors safe at home.

Living safe at home has many meanings these days, and as we head into the cooler days of fall, the time we spend at home will grow. For me, home is the place where I can set aside the challenges of work to instead focus on the needs of my family. Home is not just a place of comfort and stability, it is often the place where we connect with those who matter most to us.

While our health system leaders are making every effort to flatten the curve in this second wave, it is clear that taking the necessary physical safety measures is top of mind for everyone. It also means spending time with our extended families, friends and caregivers from afar or virtually, via Zoom. Although our efforts in the Spring proved to be effective at flattening the curve in the first wave, we can’t deny how hard it was to shut down, retreat in our homes and wait.

At no other time in our recent memories have we seen our community dwellings as potential places of virus transmission and fear, such as our local grocery stores, community centres and libraries. The notion of ’home’ suddenly seemed like more than a safe haven, rather a refuge in troubled times. No other group felt this nearly as much as our seniors.

Recent headlines were filled with stories of seniors living in congregate care settings, such as long-term care facilities; institutions that prevented them from receiving family and other visitors. Institutions that denied them the ability to leave their rooms, for fear of virus spread. Although important measures to take, this caused much stress and angst among seniors and their adult children, knowing they would not have the emotional support they needed to feel a sense of safety and security. It worries me that these same people may once again feel emotionally vulnerable, as we face a second wave.

Having worked at Carefor for nearly fifteen years as a community-based Occupational Therapist and now as their Ottawa-based lead for nursing and allied therapies, I am very aware of the many clients who live safely in their own homes. With the dedicated supports of external caregivers they are able to live independently with regular connections and support provided by their families, friends and health care team. Whether it is assisting someone to bathe and dress, providing nursing care or giving advice on how to maintain a safe home environment, Carefor’s Home and Community Care staff regularly support client health care needs and help them maintain their autonomy as they age in their place of choice.

With the extra security of personal protective equipment (PPE) like surgical masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields, Carefor staff have continued to deliver much needed Home and Community Care services to members of our community. We’ve seen that the initial concern of health care workers spreading COVID-19 from one home to another in the community, has not occurred. In fact, what we’ve seen is much the opposite with the percentage of Home and Community Care clients contracting COVID-19 being (thankfully) quite low. This very fact proves the home to be one of the safest environment for clients to receive health services during a pandemic.

We also can’t underestimate the value of emotional health on one’s overall health and well-being. For many Carefor clients, having a daily or even twice daily visit from their Personal Support Worker can often be the only in-person social interaction they experience each day. These scheduled visits provide a regular touchpoint to connect with a familiar face, share the days events and feel supported by someone who cares about them. The emotional connection and bond that establishes between our clients and our Home and Community Care staff is often palpable. This trusted relationship is key to enhancing their quality of life and over all experience while living their senior years, in their home. As new COVID-19 cases emerge and government mandated restrictions increase, we can’t forget about the need to support the emotional well-being of individuals most vulnerable to the deadly consequences of this virus.

We also can’t ignore the burden placed on family members and loved ones who choose to keep their seniors safe and protected at home, the often overlooked care partners of our health care system. Doing so out of the love and deep desire to keep their loved ones at home, they too appreciate the support our Home and Community staff bring to them. Although our focus is on the client, so often it’s the caregiver who benefits as well, allowing them a break, support or if nothing else, peace of mind knowing that there’s a trained professional who cares, coming over to help.

Evidence shows the value of home care, but it also shows the desire for it. A recent Home Care Ontario study found over 95% of seniors in Ontario believe their home is the safest environment to live during the pandemic. 93% of seniors in Ontario would choose to stay in their homes with home care services instead of moving to a long term care facility. With only 10% of funding for long-term care* for seniors in Canada going to home care, it is evident that our publicly-funded dollars do not follow demand.

Crisis brings opportunity; if nothing else, this pandemic has given us reason to pause and reflect on how we can evolve our health care system to meet people’s goals and needs. We also have a great opportunity to move more resources back into the community, with health system transformation in Ontario. Home care isn’t always possible and isn’t for everyone, but with such a large percentage of the population seeking it as an option for themselves or their loved ones these days, we must start to value home and community care much like we do other areas of the health care system.

*Crisis Working Group Report, CD Howe Institute, June 2020

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