When the staff of East 2A at the Waterford Hospital decided to raise funds to re-do the balcony on their unit, they were thinking mostly in terms of providing a nice place for patients and families to sit, and enjoy a bit of fresh air.
They got that – and a whole lot more that they didn’t expect – including the fundraising experience itself, an experience that demonstrated the determination of employees themselves – and discovery of a big helping hand along the way.
Tracey Moore is a social worker working on E2A, who spearheaded the fundraising efforts – driven by a need to provide an attractive, alternative visiting space for patients and their family members – and a comfortable spot for staff to bring patients for assessments, or just a bit of quiet time.
She and her colleagues laugh about just how determined she was – approaching them frequently with handfuls of fundraising tickets.
“For me, it’s about the little things that make someone’s day better – fresh air, a cup of tea and listening to the sounds of the outside,” she adds. “People can be here for months, and this offered an opportunity to have a nice, warm environment which gets lots of use – and gives lots of pleasure.”
E2A is a very busy unit. It is the psychiatric assessment unit for the province’s geriatric population, and vacancies are rare among its 18 beds. Patients are assessed and treated for a range of mental health issues, many of which don’t manifest themselves until later in life. These include depression, bi-polar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
It can be disconcerting not just for the patient, but for their spouses/caregivers and other family members who become an important presence and support on the unit.
“There is a lot of family involvement and visitation on E2A, as it’s often people’s first encounter with the Waterford Hospital, or the mental health system,” says Deborah Collins, the manager of the unit. “It’s a huge adjustment, especially for couples; spouses who don’t know what to do without the other but they want staff to know about their loved one – and can often speak for them.”
Paul Barrett, E2A’s patient care facilitator, agrees:
“Families are experts in things like the patient’s health issues, both physical and mental; their unique ways – such as their food preferences, all of which are helpful to both patient and staff,” Paul added. “A loved one’s behavioural and psychological symptoms can be very stressful and can also lead to caregiver burnout, especially when it comes to aggression, so it’s important for staff to engage the family as they navigate the situation and the system.”
The renovated balcony also helps. It gives patients and their families a pleasant place to visit; it gives patients who are unable to leave the unit the sense of being outdoors in the fresh air – and it allows clinical and therapeutic staff to conduct interviews and assessments in a comfortable setting.
Patients who exhibit aggressive or intrusive behaviour towards others, often settle when they visit the balcony.
It has also resulted in some unexpected – but positive – side effects.
Alice Penney is an occupational therapy assistant, who works with patients on the unit. She’s become the unofficial ‘gardener’ of the new flowers and plants on the balcony. She has studied horticulture as therapy, and says those plants have turned out to be pretty significant conversation pieces.
Alice says one of her female patients had aphasia – trouble finding the right words – speaking only in short phrases and with great effort. She understood other people, but was aware of her own difficulties, which made her very frustrated. Until one day – when Alice brought her to the new balcony:
“When she got there, it was like her aphasia disappeared. She began to tell me she worked in a florist shop, she told me how to get there, how long she had worked there, what her job was. She began naming all the plants, and was able to teach me a few things that I didn’t know. She experienced minimal word finding difficulty and her anxieties settled that day.
It was amazing to watch! I had seen this lady every day on the unit for programming and to chat, and had no idea that she even liked plants. It became a regular activity after that day for her to come to the plant room to help water and re-plant our plants.”
The staff on E2A had originally applied for a grant to the Health Care Foundation’s Comfort in Care program to renovate the balcony, but weren’t among this year’s recipients. Then Tracey heard about a sister program the Foundation offered, whereby the funds raised by employees are matched by the Foundation. And they were off and running…..raising $2,000, which the Foundation matched – for a total of $4,000!
With an additional gift from private donors, the Health Care Foundation also purchased 18 high-backed bedside armchairs – one for each patient.
“The support and determination of the staff on E2A is inspiring and we are so grateful to partner with them to enhance the comfort and care of patients on this unit,” said Paul Snow, President and CEO, Health Care Foundation.
“The Comfort in Care™ Program is driven by frontline employees of Eastern Health who see the importance of providing not only exceptional health care, but also a supportive and comforting environment that promotes healing for both patients and families.”
A supportive and pleasant environment is an important complement to the clinical care provided on Unit E2A, and the unit manager is proud of the employees and their determination to enhance the comfort of their patients, especially during a time of fiscal restraint. The money raised also bought clinical books, recreational magazines and an iPad for the unit.
Manager Deborah Collins says the balcony was an extraordinary show of team work, not just from her unit staff – who she declares to be the ‘very best’ – but from others in the maintenance, infrastructure support and infection prevention and control departments.
“It’s about vision, and motivation – and rising to a challenge,” adds Paul Barrett. “A comfortable, safe place to go has a calming effect; it takes away aggression and stress, and provides a sense of normalcy for those we serve.”
Alice sums it up for her fellow employees: “It was a lot of work – but when you see the reaction of our patients – it was so worth it!” ■
This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager based in St. John’s. Despite the same name, she and the Deborah Collins quoted in the story, are in fact, two different people!