Seniors’ Month turns 32 this year


2016 marks the 32nd anniversary of Seniors’ Month, which recognizes the important role seniors play in our communities.  This year’s theme is “Seniors Making a Difference.”

Seniors in Canada are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. In 2014, over 6 million Canadians were aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 percent of Canada’s population. By 2030—in less than two decades—seniors will number over 9.5 million and make up 23 percent of Canadians. Additionally, by 2036, the average life expectancy at birth for women will rise to 86.2 years from the current 84.2 and to 82.9 years from the current 80 for men.

While many seniors lead fulfilling lives without significant physical or cognitive changes, aging can be debilitating. Physical ailments, mobility issues, chronic pain, cognitive and sensory impairments can affect one’s functional ability. Other challenges such as retirement, changes in income, widowhood, the loss of friendships through death, and new caregiving responsibilities can lead to social and emotional isolation. Research indicates that promoting and maintaining mental health among seniors has a positive impact on their overall health and well-being and significantly affects quality of life.

In 2011, 92 percent of seniors in Canada lived in a private home. Recent Government of Canada investments in affordable and social housing, age-friendly communities, support for caregivers and programs to combat homelessness are helping seniors stay in their own homes and remain physically and socially active.

Many communities have services just for seniors. These include:

  • adult day programs – including social, fitness and other healthy activities;
  • transportation services – for people who don’t have public transportation or need help to use it;
  • community hospice services – including counselling, support groups, yoga and art classes, grief support;
  • residential hospices – where end-of-life care is provided in a home-like environment for those who can no longer stay in their own homes. People in residential hospices receive a wide range of palliative services to keep them comfortable.

SEIU Healthcare is proud of our members who support and assist our senior citizens and we wish everyone a happy Seniors’ Month.


When you’re the new kid at Convention

Many of the 400 healthcare workers and official convention delegates have never been to such a union gathering, where members vote on officers and members of the Executive Board and discuss political direction.

Some people are seeing friends and other familiar faces; lots came alone and are meeting their fellow union members for the first time.

Pam Arnold, a healthcare assistant, has been working at a private retirement home in Brampton for 28 years. It seems like she has her union rep to thank for inviting her to apply to attend SEIU Healthcare’s convention.

“My union rep said ‘come and see what it’s all about’ and I said ‘why not?’ It’s something new and different. I’ve never been outside my realm like this.”

Pam mentioned the opportunity to listen to the Ontario Premier speak to convention delegates as an example of one of the advantages to getting more involved with the union.

Reena and Pam

Reena Panchoo describes her entry into the union in a wry, humorous way, saying “my ex-manager [now a union rep for SEIU Healthcare] bullied me to come in as a steward.”

A homecare personal support worker (PSW) in Brampton for the last 13 years, Reena points out that it’s really hard to get everyone at work together for union meetings and events.

Still, she says:

“I love it. It’s really good helping other co-workers. You’re aware of what’s going on in the company, you’re more aware of the issues that we have not only as one person but all together. It’s a very fulfilling role.”

Here’s hoping people like Pam and Reena will return to their workplaces and inspire others who are curious about unions to get involved to fight for a better life for working people in Ontario – in individual workplaces and beyond.

Good food: the secret to old age?

It’s a week to honour those who work in healthcare food services and unsurprisingly, we’re hearing story after story about the importance of food, its place in the healing process, and its potential to bring us together.

Healthcare foodservice workers' week

We have also been hearing a lot about longevity and wonder how much of a role good food plays in keeping us alive and well.

Food service workers aren’t always in the kitchen. Shevon Panchew, who works at a retirement home in Forest Hill, Toronto, told us:

“The best part of my job is talking with the residents. I enjoy getting to know them and hearing their stories. I like to hear about what they did for a living, where they have travelled, and the things they have experienced through their lives. There’s one resident who is 103 years old. If someone can be alive that long and still active with a lot of knowledge, that is certainly a good thing!”

Olive Hopkinson has been serving up and delivering food to nursing home residents for nearly 30 years.

“Eating healthy is important,” Olive says. “It will keep you strong and add years onto your life.”

Robert Jackson has been working in a nursing home cafeteria for 21 years. He too highlights interacting with the residents as one of the best parts of the job.

“I enjoy talking with the residents I am serving food to,” Robert said. “One of the residents told me he was friends with Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I met a few other residents whose children have achieved some great careers in hockey and football. I always enjoy hearing their stories.”

Dietary workers are on the alert for allergies and other food-related dangers to residents. Like all roles in the long-term care sector, it’s a demanding job.

But it’s not without its human moments, those moments where residents get to share their stories…while hopefully enjoying a delicious meal.

Dogs bring back memories at Whitby nursing home

Corinna lives and works in Pickering, Ontario running her own dog boarding and food business and for the last 12 years, has brought her dog friends in for visits at Taunton Mills long-term care home in Whitby.

Once a week for an hour, Corinna brings in dogs, some of which are elderly themselves and/or foster pets in need of a home, to visit with residents.

It’s all about the smiles she sees when the dogs visit, she says. “A lot of the residents immediately start talking about the dogs they had when they were growing up. They don’t necessarily remember their own name but they remember details about their dogs.”

Corinna and her dog Bowie

Corinna with her dog Bowie, 2010-2015

Animals have a soothing effect on many people, but Corinna cautiously avoids anyone who has discomfort towards dogs. She goes from person to person in a common room, visiting dozens of residents each time.

“For example, I have a German Sheppard who is trained to “go visit,” and sits next to the wheelchair so they can pat his head,” says Corinna. Then I tell him, “good visit, good visit. It’s not about me or chatting too much, it’s all about the interaction between the dogs and the person.”

When asked about what is about the dogs that helps the residents, Corinna says that for most of the seniors, it’s a way of remembering the past.

Like any person who works or volunteers in long-term care, Corinna finds herself emotionally involved with the environment.

She sees the same family members visiting and many of them remember the names of the dogs. “I become part of their lives and they know I’m making their relatives more comfortable during the brief hour I’m there with the dogs.”

When asked how long she sees herself continuing this positive role in the community, Corinna says simply, “I hope to be doing this as long as I have dogs.”

Personal support worker on bargaining committee representing 16,000 people

Stephaney Williams is a personal support worker at a long-term care home in east Scarborough, where she has worked 7am-3pm for 29 years, taking care of elderly residents.

She decided to take her involvement at work to the next step by getting involved with her union.

Stephaney Williams

“I saw the work that stewards were doing and thought it could be interesting to get involved and advocate for my members. I became the chief steward and I’ve been doing it for ten years.”

Stephaney also sits on her health and safety committee at work. There are more than 200 staff members there.

We spoke with Stephaney after a week-long bargaining session. The negotiations between her union SEIU Healthcare, representing 16,000 retirement and nursing home employees, and a combined 100 nursing and retirement homes, will be in official mediation as of August 29.

She was there as part of the union’s bargaining committee.

“We have a great team. This year there are some new faces, younger faces. I think it’s great, they are our future. It’s nice that they were able play a role, by getting what they want to see in the contract to make it better for all our members.”

Stephaney is a realist.

“I will tell my co-workers it’s been a great experience, it’s nice to be able to have a say with our collective agreement and to have something positive to bring back. You cannot bring back everything, you’re not going to get all the items, but the important things are what you spend most of the time on and focus on.”

“The bargaining process is very trying and tiring. But for the most part, we’re progressing.”

Behavioural Supports soothe dementia patients

With the numerous problems faced by and within Ontario’s nursing homes, we are used to sad stories about long-term care.

That’s why it was a very pleasant surprise to hear from Nancy Waddle, a Behavioural Supports worker at Sienna Barnswallow Place Care Community in Elmira, Ontario, about the open and collaborative atmosphere at her workplace.

“I absolutely love it there,” said Nancy without hesitation, about the nursing home where she’s been a caregiver since 2012. “I would send any of my loves ones to my nursing home.”

Nancy Waddle

Nancy credits in part the management team for the quality of the home. She says they treat the employees with respect. It’s a different environment than her last workplace, a privately owned nursing home. What’s important, she says, is that “I believe that when I speak, I’m heard.”

Behavioural Supports of Ontario is a funding initiative by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and it created Nancy’s job. She works directly with residents on their mental health, finding creative solutions to soothe people when they’re upset or acting out.

Nancy’s passion for her residents and work is palpable. Her favourite place is on the Alzheimer’s floor. She tells a story about one resident that she sees regularly. When they wake up around 5 a.m. asking to go home, Nancy takes the time to remind them that they are safe, that this is their home. She gives them puzzles to work on so they have something to do.

For other patients who don’t want to do certain things like take a bath, she figures out how to convince them it’s a good idea.

“It’s all about dignity and respect,” says Nancy. “The residents remember your smile and how you made them feel.”

We caught up with Nancy during a week-long bargaining session in Richmond Hill, where as part of a bargaining committee she is helping negotiate a new contract for around 16,000 nursing and retirement home workers across Ontario.Whether you’re at the bargaining table or living in a nursing home, it’s clear that you want Nancy and her coworkers at Barnswallow Place on your team.

Battling for a bargain

Approximately 16,000 retirement and nursing home employees will get a new work contract after a group of long-term care union members and representatives battle a combined 100 employers for a better deal for people who work day and night looking after residents.

They are urging Ontario’s long-term care employers to “be fair to those who care.”

The bargaining process has been ongoing this week at a hotel conference room in Richmond Hill. One hundred nursing and retirement homes have come together on one side of the table while SEIU Healthcare members and union representatives sit at the other side of the table.

The two sides engage in a type of civilized battle, each protecting its own interests and defending its allies. It is a skilled dance, and communication is key. The union side works together as a true committee with one voice. In a way, that’s the core of spirit of union power.

This process is one of the most important thing a union does: collective bargaining for a collective agreement. And members have a direct say. Several bargaining committee members were elected to participate in the contract negotiations at the LTC Bargaining Conference held in July 2015.

The members who are here are on leave from work at their normal jobs at nursing and retirement homes across the province.

One such member is Matthew Sheets, a personal support worker (PSW) for Revera Kilean Lodge in Grimsby, Ontario. It’s a small home with 50 beds, so he knows all the residents. He’s worked there on the Alzheimer’s floor for about 3 years.

“It’s a hard job, but the benefits and the satisfaction of the job outweigh the negative. It’s worth it whenever I see positive change, whenever I see resident satisfaction and contentment and know that we are making a difference.”

Matthew has been working with SEIU Healthcare to create change in his workplace, to improve working conditions to meet the needs of the residents, who, he emphasizes, “are our main focus.”

He has a lot of admiration for the chief negotiators and the other members of the bargaining committee because he has learned how much effort goes into making a collective agreement. When asked what he hopes most to see in the new contract, Matthew said:

“We have a lot of language to clarify because otherwise the employer manipulates it whenever it’s left vague. It’s more significant than you’d think. We don’t want employers to bend language, we want our rights to be clear.”

The members and union reps have been thoroughly prepped for long negotiation sessions, because they know that everything they do, say, or otherwise communicate could have an impact on the outcome of the new contract. Thousands of fellow long-term care workers are depending on them now.