Supporting the wellness of seniors

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Supporting the wellness of seniors has always been a high priority at Toronto’s West Park Healthcare Centre. Thanks to a unique partnership, West Park is continuing that attention to the care of seniors outside of its walls in some high-priority seniors’ communities in Toronto’s West end.

The Supportive Housing Project is one of 12 initiatives funded in 2008/09 through the Toronto-Central Local Health Integration Network (TC-LHIN) from the Ministry of Health’s Aging at Home Strategy – which focuses on prevention initiatives that help seniors continue to live healthy, independent lives in their homes.

Close to $1M was invested in the project, which focuses on four Toronto Community Housing buildings situated in the former City of York and involves five partners – St. Clair West Services for Seniors, York West Senior Citizens Centre, Toronto Community Housing, VHA Home Healthcare and West Park Healthcare Centre Seniors Mental Health Service.

This program is providing services for 115 marginalized seniors – including help with activities of daily living; intensive case management for at-risk seniors; wellness and health promotion; and chronic disease management. The supportive housing team consists of personal support workers, case managers, nursing services, mental health services and partners with the Toronto Community Housing staff in addressing safety, nutrition, health, mental and social needs.

The Supportive Housing Services project is only six months old, but already great strides have been made in reaching its goals, which include decreasing emergency room visits, long-term care placements and hospital stays.

Mental health services are an important component to the program as well, and West Park’s Seniors Mental Health Service is working to address the mental health issues that seniors deal with in these communities.

“The issues facing these communities are complex,” says Sharon Bieck-Shangrow, a Mental Health Consultant at West Park. “Low income, disability, frailty, cultural/ linguistic barriers and isolation significantly impact a senior’s state of mental health and quality of life.”

Bieck-Shangrow works with seniors using a variety of methods – ranging from individual intervention to group presentations on such topics as “Brain Fitness” and “Beating the Winter Blues.”

This partnership expands on the prior outreach work of the Seniors Mental Health Service, a program that was established in 1979 and is one of the longest standing geriatric outreach services in Toronto.

In-home assessments with seniors and their families to assess early cognitive loss, depression, stress, anxiety and other mental health disorders are part of the daily routine for the Seniors Mental Health Service, and speak to West Park’s ongoing commitment to the surrounding community.

“Seniors’ wellness is growing as a priority as our population ages,” says Anne-Marie Malek, West Park’s President and CEO. “Programs like the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Aging at Home Strategy recognizes this and enables organizations like West Park to carry out its mission to help individuals live the fullest lives possible, especially in communities facing great challenges.”

St. Clair West Services for Seniors co-ordinates the project and sees West Park’s involvement as invaluable. “Seniors Mental Health Service has identified seniors who we normally would not be able to reach,” says Leigh Judson, manager of the Supportive Housing Project. “They have built trust with these tenants and have made it possible for us to provide them access to all our services.”

In addition to the core services the 115 seniors in the program receive, the project makes other services, including presentations, available to the entire tenant population at each building. Monica Clarke, 79, is one such tenant and recently took in a session on “Brain Fitness” that Seniors Mental Health Service presented with the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto. Clarke also feels the service provided by the Supportive Housing Project is invaluable.

“I really appreciate the service and what they are doing for the people who really need help,” says Clarke. “When I go out and see my friends I always tell them about the service. It’s so helpful.”