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Archived - Love letters, live guitar and transatlantic family reunion: All in a day of quarantine at Carleton Lodge

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April 23, 2020
Feature Stories

In the City of Ottawa’s fight against COVID-19, there is no place with higher stakes than long-term care homes.

Carleton Lodge, a long-term care home in the city’s south end, has no positive cases, and staff are doing everything in their power to keep in that way.

Lynette Whalen is one of three Recreation Coordinators at Carleton Lodge. With strict protocols in place to keep COVID-19 out, each day she and her colleagues are witnessing the resilience, devotion and humour of residents and their loved ones.

A blonde woman standing next to a chair in a lobby, wearing a flowered shirt and a surgical mask.
Before her shift, Lynette shared what it’s like to work under quarantine, and how she and her colleagues are using technology to help keep Carleton Lodge residents connected with friends and family.

What is it like at Carleton Lodge these days?

Like all long-term care homes in the city, we’re in quarantine. Not being able to have visitors has been hard for our residents and their families, so we’ve been working hard to keep them connected.

How is that working?

Each of us Recreation Coordinators has an iPad on loan so we can help residents video chat with friends and family using Skype or FaceTime. Our Day Program staff are also helping with social visits and small group programs.

What are these chats like?

Some are hilarious and chaotic, with dogs barking and grandkids doing cartwheels in the background.

One of my residents is particularly unimpressed with the state of her hair, since the hairdresser can’t come in right now due to the quarantine. Because you can see yourself on the screen as well as whoever you’re talking to, she just can’t help herself, she always makes her family laugh poking fun at how her hair is reaching new heights of frizz every day.

Others are just as heart-wrenching as you’d expect, particularly when residents are talking to friends or family on their birthday or anniversary or any event like that where the separation is particularly hard.

These iPads must be a hot commodity. What are the logistics like?

The demand for these video chats is constant, so we’ve been working on a scheduling system.

People are also staying in touch the old-fashioned way, talking on the phone, and we’ve been encouraging people to share photos and videos via email.

An elderly gentleman wearing a black and white T-shirt and glasses sits at a table looking at a blue tablet he’s holding in his hands.
Staff in all four long-term care homes operated by the City of Ottawa are helping residents use technology to stay connected during the quarantine. Carleton Lodge resident Larry Butler, pictured here, has been using FaceTime to keep in touch with his wife.

How are couples living apart handling things?

There’s a resident in her late eighties I work with whose husband is sending her love letters every single day, along with pictures of the places they’ve travelled to over the years. I’ve never seen anything like it. I help her keep the photos and letters organized in a binder, and you should see it - this binder is nearly an inch thick.

Being separated is difficult, but people understand how important this quarantine is. We are incredibly fortunate to have no COVID-19 cases at Carleton Lodge, and staff are doing everything within our power to keep it that way.

What are the protocols like to keep residents and staff safe?

We screen for symptoms every day; everyone gets their temperature taken when they arrive for work. We’re washing our hands religiously, and staff wear masks at all times. I was worried residents would find it alarming, but it’s actually been fine.

Nurses and personal support workers wear proper PPE when providing care or serving food, which they did before anyway. We’ve also changed how we coordinate meals, to make sure people are spaced apart.

Our cleaning staff are at it non-stop, sanitizing all the surfaces people touch with their hands – railings, tables, chairs, etc.

Our programming has had to change as well. We’re lucky to have an enclosed garden, which makes it easy to get outside for fresh air and exercise. We’re still running activities, just in small groups. We would normally have a group of 30 or 40 for a game of bingo for example, but for now it’s groups of four, on individual units only with people spread out for physical distancing.

How has COVID-19 impacted how you think about your work?

Even under quarantine, the essence of what I do remains the same. I work primarily with people with dementia, and my job is to help residents continue to find meaning and purpose in their lives. One woman I work with is a retired nurse, and she’s always checking up on her friends and neighbours, still doing her rounds, so to speak. During this quarantine, a lot of our residents are expressing a desire to help and contribute somehow, which is amazing to see.

What has been the best part?

Nothing can replace in-person visits, but helping residents connect with their friends and family during this time of crisis has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve always loved my job, but never more than I do right now.

A woman in a hat holds a colourful sign that reads: “I love you.”
Carleton Lodge resident Sheila Carty eloquently sums up the message she and her fellow residents are sending to their families and friends during this difficult time.

Will you continue with the video chats, after the quarantine is lifted?

Absolutely. The other day I was able to help a resident set up a FaceTime call with her daughter who lives in England. It was 8 pm in the UK so she took her phone out on her balcony so her mom could hear everyone cheering and clapping in support of their health care workers.

These experiences are amazing for our residents. We’ll definitely continue to help residents stay in touch with friends and family who live too far to visit as often as they would like to.

The other element I think we’ll keep is our Talent Zone. The idea was to set up a microphone in the foyer so staff who can carry a tune could sing a song if they’d like to. We have some talented residents, too. One of our residents plays guitar, and he’s been playing for us a lot. Having live music in Carleton Lodge has been wonderful, so I think that’s here to stay as well.

A man in a maroon polo shirt wearing a surgical mask sings into a microphone.
Personal Support Worker Yvon Balan is among the staff who have taken to the microphone to lift people’s spirits with live music during this period of quarantine at Carleton Lodge.

What has it been like for you on the home front?

I’m just as careful going back home at the end of the day as I am when I arrive at work. Outside of work, basically the only time I go out is to walk my dog, and I’m vigilant about keeping my distance from others. My husband works from home and he’s been doing the grocery shopping so I can avoid the store. I take self-isolation really seriously, and I know all my colleagues do too. If we had a single case of COVID-19 at Carleton Lodge, this conversation we’re having would be very different. No one wants to be responsible for an outbreak, so it’s well worth the effort it takes to be extra cautious.

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