A healthcare worker at a long term care facility recently told me about a resident who came to them from the streets. Listening to her story, I could see that the love and care she and her colleagues had for “Betty” went beyond just providing food and a warm bed.
A few years ago, we admitted a new resident who had been a homeless person for a number of years. Betty was a feisty, tough little woman who captured our hearts right away.
She came to us in rough shape. She was malnourished. Her skin was dry and covered in sores. As a result, she required a special diet. She needed a wheelchair. The bag of clothes that came with her had to be thrown out.
Betty did not trust or like anyone. She let us know what she thought of us in no uncertain terms and could peel the paint off the walls with her language.
Due to her previous lifestyle, it took a while for her finances to be straightened out. The staff immediately rallied around Betty. As the charge nurse, I was so proud and touched by their response. Without any discussion, they started bringing in clothes, toiletries, and a few trinkets for her room. They gave her a cute sunhat and a calendar.
We quickly realized that Betty became alarmed and very agitated if anything in her routine changed. She became anxious if she was in a crowd of people and would quickly begin yelling and swearing.
We all worked hard to provide Betty with a daily routine that was the least disturbing for her. Many of our talks during the morning staff meeting centred around her different behaviours and what they meant and how we should react.
After a while, Betty settled into a routine that gave her security and comfort. She learned that she could trust us and that we respected her choices. Sometimes we could even coax a laugh and a joke out of her!
Caring for seniors such as Betty is part of the job for thousands of healthcare workers across Ontario. It’s what they’re paid to do. But many go that extra mile to make residents feel secure and comfortable, to provide care with dignity, to respect them as individual human beings—to show them love and make a difference in their lives.