Connection, care and comfort for our most vulnerable during the pandemic
The fight against coronavirus has turned our lives upside down and ushered in a very different existence characterised by periodic visitor restrictions, strict hygiene measures and physical distancing. Aged care residents, who would normally enjoy daily activities, interaction and visits from their loved ones, have borne a particularly heavy emotional burden. In this time of adversity and grief, lifestyle and pastoral care staff in Mercy Health’s Residential Aged Care homes have played a central role in the effort to provide residents with creative activities and meaningful opportunities for connection and comfort.
“During this time, we have had to make a lot of adjustments,” says Mercy Place East Melbourne Lifestyle Coordinator Claire Ganzon. “We have had to adapt and work creatively within the guidelines to make sure the residents could still interact, socialise and engage in meaningful ways during this lockdown period.”
Mercy Health Residential Aged Care staff have been particularly focussed on keeping residents, families and friends connected. “All the residents have felt the absence of friends and loved ones in the home. It has been really important for us to organise regular contact between them and their families so they know they have not been forgotten,” says Claire.
In the thick of Victoria’s Stage 4 restrictions in August and September, the State Government introduced strict new rules in aged care that meant no visitors were permitted, unless they were providing essential care.
In homes where coronavirus outbreaks occurred, visitors were unable to visit at all. To maintain connection, staff were busy every day coordinating phone and video calls between residents and families and distributing email messages. “The other day I had back-to-back video calls, so it has been pretty hectic,” Claire laughs. “I know they do not come close to seeing the people you love face-to-face but they are the next-best thing that we have to keep everyone connected and the residents really look forward to them.”
“In the 24 Mercy Health Residential Aged Care homes in Victoria, staff have found other creative ways to keep residents connected, engaged and comforted during this difficult season.”
The regular video calls opened up a whole new range of virtual activities for Mercy Place East Melbourne residents, including a singalong with friends at Mercy Place Parkville, a Coffee Club meet-up with residents at Mercy Place Ave Maria in Shepparton and a livestreamed musical performance from talented violinist Olivia, who has visited the home every month for several years. “It was wonderful for the residents to have that reunion with her and experience the concert atmosphere in the home again,” says Claire.
In the 24 Mercy Health Residential Aged Care homes in Victoria, staff have found other creative ways to keep residents connected, engaged and comforted during this difficult season. The initiatives have included window visits from relatives, bespoke in-room activity kits, deliveries of flowers to unwell residents, Father’s Day gift bags and homemade cookies.
“They’ve been very resilient and gracious in appreciating what we have right now — whether that’s the activities or the care of the staff.”
Claire speaks with pride of the fortitude and grace residents have shown over the past six months. “When the restrictions were first announced in late March, I was very concerned they would cause significant distress to the residents because they treasure the time they spend with others, particularly loved ones. But they have been very resilient and gracious in appreciating what we have right now — whether that is the activities or the care of the staff. It is actually really moving.”
Pastoral carers have also played an essential role in offering emotional and spiritual support to residents. With visitor restrictions in place and group activities either pared back or stopped altogether, they too have had to adapt and put in more one-on-one time with residents.
“People who enjoy coming to church services have really missed them. They miss that regular connection every week,” says Mercy Place Montrose Pastoral Carer Libby Murray. “I have done a lot more one-on-one work and there has been some engagement with individuals who have been quite down or unwell. Spending that regular time with them has been really special.”
“One of the ladies was really unwell and did not have the energy to do her morning devotions anymore. So I would go to her room every day and read through her devotions and pray with her. That was really special,” says Libby.
Apart from the one-on-one visits, Libby writes weekly reflections and delivers them to residents who have requested them. She also assists the Lifestyle team with in-room activities, family phone calls and helping residents maintain social connection such as accompanying them to bingo. “That social connection is an important part of spirituality,” Libby says.
When Libby noticed that a group of men living in one of the small households at Mercy Place Montrose were particularly down, she initiated a regular music group in their home, playing tunes those residents especially loved.
“There have been lots of special moments.”
“It is very much about responding to the pastoral needs that arise and every individual is different and wants different things. There have been lots of special moments,” she says.
Despite the challenges of the past six months, Libby has loved accompanying the residents during this difficult period, offering a listening ear and shining a light in the darkness. “Seeing someone’s mood change for the better when you visit them is really rewarding. It is always nice to see how being there to talk through what is on their mind and heart makes such a big difference.”
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