August 13, 2020
At Baycrest and other Long Term Care Homes, before the COVID-19 pandemic, mealtime assistance to support residents unable to eat independently was supported by staff, loved ones and volunteers. With restrictions in place on visitors and volunteers due to the pandemic, a new program has been put in place to help support our residents and assist care teams during mealtimes. Baycrest has hired feeding assistants and has also found support from staff members across the organization who have volunteered to help out. Staff have found this to be a positive experience, helping them connect with our older adult population.
Jill Fabian, Mail Attendant at Baycrest, used to work as a part-time personal support worker (PSW) at another facility. Due to the pandemic restriction on working at multiple long-term care facilities, Fabian has been unable to work as a PSW. With time on her hands, she found an opportunity to make a difference through volunteering. She says, “It gives you a sense of purpose, and you feel rewarded and fulfilled. It takes your mind off what is going on around you.” Fabian mentions her previous experience as a PSW motivated her to sign up. “I know how challenging and difficult it is as a PSW,” says Fabian. “When you have help, it makes a huge difference. You can give quality one-on-one time, which is needed for residents during their mealtimes.”
Ryan Calma, Help Desk Technician in the e-Health Department, has worked at Baycrest for nearly 20 years. “I started working here because my parents worked here. Baycrest is home to me. I would even come here as a child with my dad when he would pick my mom up in the evenings. I signed up as a feeding assistant now, as well as during the SARS epidemic, because you do everything to protect your home and the people in it.” Ryan has found the experience rewarding, he says, “When you help out with feeding, it is actually quite relaxing. You take the time out of your day to have a good conversation. It feels good to give back.”
It was intimidating for Calma at first, even with his past experience as a feeding assistant during the SARS epidemic. However, once he received the training, he felt comfortable. He says, “The training is very helpful. It gave me confidence. The first time you feed a resident, you are guided through the whole process.”
Dr. Rosanne Aleong, Director of Research, Innovation, and Translation at the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) says that volunteering as a feeding assistant has helped her connect with clients. She says, “I’m not client-facing so this was a great opportunity to connect with clients more directly. The mission of our research includes helping people living with cognitive impairment and dementia, and understanding and forming relationships with clients is really important because it brings home why we do our research.”
Another motivation for Dr. Aleong to volunteer was driven by the importance of mealtime placed by her family, “Growing up, mealtime for me was always family-focused. I know that with the restrictions in long-term care homes, the meal experience for clients has completely changed. So, I was hoping that in my small way, I could contribute by bringing some sense of community back to their mealtime because I know how important it is to my family and me."
Paula Carcamo, Recreationist, began working at Baycrest in the thick of the first wave. Even before the volunteer posting was shared with staff, Paula would come to Baycrest early to help nurses and PSWs feed residents at the Apotex. She says, “After the email went out, I signed up to be scheduled regularly. It’s been a nice experience. I think eating is both a very personal and social activity. You get to interact with the resident on another level. I have learned a lot of things that I wouldn’t have known while doing my usual work with recreational activities. For example, there is one resident I feed breakfast a few times a week, and we always talk about his time in Montreal. It is great to have such opportunities to get to know residents and clients.”
Annette Schumann, Post-doctoral Fellow at RRI, moved to Toronto from Germany two years ago for a research project and signed up as soon as the posting was shared with staff. She says, “One of the main reasons I volunteered is because I am very grateful for my situation and my placement at Baycrest. I see the effort this organization is making to keep clients, patients and staff as safe as possible. I also signed up because a lot of the activities of my research project are on hold due to the pandemic, so we cannot run studies or meet participants. I miss communicating with people, so when I heard that I could become a feeding assistant, I signed up immediately. I can give my time and make a contribution. As long as we’re in the midst of this, I am pleased that I can find ways of interacting with others while making a difference.”