Behind the PPE: Caring in a Crisis

“It’s not easy to be young and require institutional care.”

Nicole Nadeau-Fréchette is a social worker at a long-term care facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her career has been dedicated to a unit which supports individuals under 65 years old with complex care needs, many of whom live with MS.

“The benefit of having a unit dedicated for younger people is that they form a community. Many residents share similar realities of how a chronic illness or disability has impacted their life. They provide support and understanding to each other in ways that can only happen with a shared experience.”

During the health crisis, Canadians have gotten a taste of social isolation – something that people in long-term care homes will continue to experience when the pandemic is over. It also means that vulnerable populations like people in long-term care have become even more isolated.

“We can’t receive in-person visits, nor can residents leave the home. Some of our residents maintain independence and autonomy by going shopping themselves and looking after their needs. This is no longer possible, making them become more dependent for assistance, which is frustrating for them.”

The mental health impacts of reducing the residents’ already-limited interactions is also concerning.

“Providing ongoing emotional support to our residents is important since the pandemic causes much fear, anxiety, grief, and even anger. Social distancing requirements have impacted group activities and meals which reduces the social enjoyment of mealtimes. Many care facilities also emphasize the importance of creating a home-like environment for the residents. Some of our residents have little support from friends or family. Their only source for belonging and connection is our staff.  The requirement of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and face shields, though terribly important, creates distance by serving as a vivid reminder that the residents live in an institutional setting.”

Despite the restrictions, Nicole and her coworkers are dedicated to maintaining as many connections as possible. They’ve coordinated virtual calls with families and friends as well as ‘window visits’. Nicole has reached out to family members to offer support and reassurance as families worry in their own isolated circumstances about their loved ones.

As people across Canada begin to venture out of self-isolation, let’s remember that the isolation for those in long-term care will not end with the lifting of restrictions. While Nicole and the other long-term care staff across Canada take action to lessen social isolation for people living in care facilities, we can also work to break down barriers. As MS Awareness Month draws to a close, let’s continue to reduce isolation for those affected by this debilitating disease.

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