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Redeployed to the front line: from tourism job to long-term care work

After spending a month redeployed and working in Grey County’s long-term care department, tourism staffer Alison Theodore calls her experience 'extremely rewarding'
2020_03_24 Grey Gables long term care home_JG
A number of staff members from Grey County were redeployed to the long-term care department on March 20.

In her day-to-day life prior to COVID-19, Alison Theodore spent her time at work promoting all the great things Grey County has to offer. Now, in the trenches of COVID-19, Theodore spends half her day connecting local businesses with relief aid and the other half keeping long-term care (LTC) residents safe.

“It has been very rewarding,” says Theodore, who was redeployed to Grey Gables LTC home on March 20. “The staff at the LTC facility are relieved and overjoyed that we are there to help out in the roles that we are performing. And, that feels good. To feel like you are helpful and being useful.”

Theodore, along with a number of other staff members from the county’s tourism and economic development departments, were some of the first staff members to be redeployed to the county’s LTC department.

“Our three long-term care homes greatly appreciate the immediate and enthusiastic support of our redeployed staff,” says Jennifer Cornell, executive director of the Grey County LTC department.

As previously reported, Grey County had the capacity to redeploy 90 of its non-essential staff members. As of mid-April, 28 Grey County staff members have been trained and redeployed to the LTC department and another 30 were set to be trained and redeployed by the end of the month.

“In addition to the staff we already have redeployed in the home, we have even more waiting in the wings to step in if staffing levels become critical,” confirmed Cornell.

Theodore’s official title with the county is tourism partner and media relations specialist. When COVID-19 reached the county borders and local tourism screeched to a halt, her position was considered non-essential.

Theodore says when she was asked about being redeployed to LTC, she immediately said yes. Adding, that county staff were given the option not to redeploy, as some staff members have different situations and may need to consider vulnerable family members.

Cornell says depending on the LTC facility, redeployed staff may be helping with a variety of tasks.

“All of our redeployed staff receive specialized training to allow them to support all kinds of activities in the home,” Cornell says. “Outside of the Colour It Connect program, redeployed staff may support with tasks like laundry, bedmaking, meal service and cleaning.”

After an orientation and training process, Theodore says deployed staff were given the tasks of running the facility's COVID-19 screening station and facilitating the home’s Colour it Connect program, which allows residents to video call family members.

“By taking on these two tasks we are freeing up the time of the home’s workers - the nurses, the personal care workers, the physiotherapists and just allowing them the ability to continue to provide direct care to the residents,” Theodore says.

She adds that she can’t imagine how LTC staff were doing everything on their own prior to the additional staff being redeployed.

“We screen every single person that enters the building. That includes every staff person, all of the public support workers, all of the service providers who bring the food and equipment that some of the residents require. Everyone is screened, before and after their shift,” she says. “It is very time-consuming.”

Theodore describes the screening process as thorough, which includes an electronic logbook, a series of temperature checks and screening questions. As well as verifying that the staff are not working in more than one LTC location.

“Once they have passed that screening, we will allow them into the building and provide them with a PPE. Staff are also required to change on site and we also monitor that,” she explains.

Redeployed staff members have been assisting with Grey County’s Colour it Connect program, which looks to connect residents to their family members over a video calling application.

“These staff have been immediately helpful with the Colour It Connect program, which has helped our residents cope with loneliness during the visitor restrictions. This has been a positive experience for residents and their families,” says Cornell.

While helping residents with the Colour it Connect program, Theodore says she realized that during this pandemic, everyone has been grieving.

“Whether it is a way of life, a loss of your job, or your sense of freedom. We are all grieving. But, for the people with loved ones in LTC facilities, one of the major things that they have lost is this ability to gather together with their loved ones,” she says. “I get the sense that a lot of these people are feeling a sense of guilt, sadness, or disconnection that they can’t see their loved ones. So, through Colour it Connect, it just makes it possible to keep them in touch.”

She adds that it may not be the same as seeing someone in person, it allows some time together, while still keeping the residents safe.

“The families are reassured when they get to see them face-to-face and you can see the joy that both the resident and the families have getting to see each other,” Theodore says. “I think it is really important, now more than ever, for them to feel connected.”

While LTC department staff may be feeling relieved to see back-up coming through the door, Theodore says the residents are more curious than anything else.

“So many questions. They ask me all kinds of questions and they want to know all about who this new person in their home is.” she laughs. “I think one of the things that we all fail to realize is that these residents have lived these incredible lives.”

She says she has enjoyed getting to know the residents, as well as getting a better perspective of how the LTC department operates.

“Some of these residents have the most incredible stories. What they have been through, what they have seen in their lifetime and I would hope that they are equally as interested in learning and finding out about us too,” she says. “I wasn’t in-tune with everything that goes on here. The dedication of the staff, the programs they put on, all the work and everything that goes on in the home is incredible to see.” 

Theodore says the most difficult part of her new reality is trying to maintain the balancing act between her new role in the LTC and her previous position in the tourism department.

“I work at the LTC home in the morning and come home and put on the tourism cap for the afternoon. So, it is a bit of a balancing act,” she says, explaining that the county’s tourism department has been working closely with the economic development department to help local small businesses and stakeholders find the relief aid and resources they need.

However, Theodore says that she will continue the balancing act in order to work in LTC until the need is no longer there.

“I hope that one of the things that people take away from this pandemic is this whole idea of community spirit and helping each other. I have always been that type of person, so my need to work at the LTC facility comes from that,” she says. “But, I just hope that post-pandemic, when we are all through this, that that is one of the lessons that we keep. Because, it is the most important takeaway and a good rule to live by.”

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Jennifer Golletz

About the Author: Jennifer Golletz

Jennifer Golletz covers civic matters under the Local Journalism Initative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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