Winter care and rural care

This week I heard from someone who works in a provincial nursing home. I am told staff are worn out because fresh staff haven’t been to get to work and since many of those who worked through the blizzards haven’t been able to get home they are sleeping on-site. That is the only way many can make their shifts and cover for those who can’t make it to work.

Care givers are exhausted. I’m told that because of the physical and emotional strain of being on duty 24/7, morale is really low.

Low morale is something I heard about last weekend while doing pre-storm shopping. Another caregiver, who works in a long-term care facility, said with cutbacks she only has 15 minutes with each resident. She can’t spend time with the residents to chat or hold a hand. And it’s ripping her heart out when she can’t sit a few minutes with an elderly person who is in tears. This is a woman we want in health care. She is totally dedicated to the resident, she’s a hard worker, someone who would crawl over broken glass to get to work, and is willing to do more than the basic outline of a job description. Her work has so changed it’s hurting her soul. Bureaucrats won’t understand that. And that’s one of the biggest impediments to the delivery of care.

If those who work in a defined space, like a nursing home or long-term care facility, who have colleagues on-site and back up, are demoralized and burned out, how must home care workers feel? How burned out are they attempting to delivery care in blizzards to homes which are buried in snow for days? Where I live many able-bodied people couldn’t get out of their homes or yards for four and five days. How do frail and fragile people in rural areas who need home care cope? They can’t clear paths and drives. The isolation must make many fearful.

One home care worker I met told me of his fear of winter driving. Of the challenge his night blindness presents. And having to shovel his way into homes. That takes away from the time he has to deliver care.

The health conversation is about keeping people in their homes. But it is a misdirected conversation? Are those in their homes really committed to that particular house or do they see it as their only option for avoiding an institution? Maybe their real desire is to stay in their home community, which is familiar, and where they have family and friends?

In rural Nova Scotia there isn’t a lot of rental accommodation. What there is is usually a large house. But drive the province and it’s obvious we have a lot of vacant and/or surplus public buildings, like schools. I’ve proposed this before, why can’t these buildings be converted into senior housing?

As I drive the Walton shore I see a low, abandoned, flat-roofed, brick school building. It looks like it was built in the 1960s or 70s. It’s boarded up. It is not used. If the walls and floors are solid, why can’t it be gutted and classrooms converted into self-contained apartments for seniors. As a former school it would have wide halls and is on one level, so it would work for those with mobility issues. The land around the school is level, so in spring, summer and fall it would provide an opportunity to get outside. It would provide social options so residents aren’t isolated. The chance for socialization and some movement might add to overall health. And a cluster of seniors would make delivery of care more convenient. Each resident could pay a modest rent to cover building operations. It might even become a type of social hub or modest economic contributor to the community.

Why not employ some of these buildings as a pilot project as a new alternative for rural seniors and senior care? Cost would be marginal. What have we to lose? Given how we are burning people out, we have to be innovative.

No doubt there is a small army of experts in Halifax to say why this can’t work, but these same experts haven’t faced caregivers or the people receiving care. I doubt they have even driven the province. The experts rely on spreadsheets, not real people and real situations.

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