One-on-one with a seniors’ care trailblazer
A conversation with Dr. Ashley Verduyn, Vice-President of Medical Affairs and Chief of Providence Healthcare.
What challenges do older women face when it comes to navigating health care?
Women have a longer life expectancy then men, and as they age, they face unique challenges in navigating our health-care system. For example, older women often live alone; they can be homebound because they are socially isolated and have limited access to transportation. For those who live with a spouse who is not well, like one with dementia, women may be the primary caregivers, which makes it difficult for them to get the health care they need.
How are you addressing these challenges at Providence Healthcare?
At Providence, our rehabilitation programs provide holistic, patient-centred care to women who have experienced an illness, stroke or injury. Our programs help women regain their strength and mobility so they can live independently. Our teams help them transition safely back to their homes by working with home and community care services.
We have an adult day program that offers day, evening and overnight stays for people with dementia. It gives caregivers time to look after themselves without worrying about leaving a loved one alone.
We’re also known for our outreach services. Our specialized geriatric team travels to see patients in their homes to do assessments and make recommendations. We want to expand this service into primary care for home-based seniors, so they can access health care and live safely as they age.
We have a high number of women in our long-term care home, largely because women live longer than men. Our staff, the majority of whom are women, work with residents over time and establish emotional connections. They learn about our residents’ hobbies, their interests and even the songs they listened to when they were young. Residents participate in a variety of activities and cultural celebrations that give them joy and meaning. Our staff become part of their family, when their families can’t be there.
That’s what’s really special about the Houses of Providence. Long-term care has been an undervalued part of our health-care system for too long, and it can be a difficult work environment. We’ve worked hard to change that and create an environment where our staff and residents thrive.
Older women are also underrepresented in research. At Providence, many of our research and quality improvement activities are aimed at improving the health and well-being of older women. For example, we are evaluating the impact of a fracture liaison program in rehabilitation to improve the treatment of osteoporosis, a disease that is three times more common in women than in men.
What’s your vision for Providence?
We have a bold vision. We want to design a Campus of Care where residents and community patients can get the medical, personal and recreational services they need in one place.
That works on two fronts.
The first is to expand our long-term care capacity, because we have a very long waiting list. The good news is that we’ve been allocated 180 new long-term care beds by the Province of Ontario, and plans are underway to build a new home. The second is adding services on site – such as vision and hearing clinics – so our patients don’t have to travel around the city to get the health care they need. We’re working on more connections with home care services, so we can help people live longer in their homes.
I’m also excited about expanding our rehab programs, and integrating our care with St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s, which means patients will have seamless care as they move between Providence and our sister hospitals. And finally, research that improves the health and well-being of our patients and residents, and training of the new generation of health-care professionals are key pillars that will help us achieve our vision for a Campus of Care.
When did you know you’d devote your career to long-term care?
I was inspired by my two amazing grandmothers. One of them was passionate about health care; she was on a hospital board in Comox and had a lot to do with elder care. And both were fiercely independent. They spoke with me about the issues they were facing as they aged.
I began my career as a physician working in the Houses of Providence, and I absolutely loved it. There is such a community feeling in the Houses and I really enjoyed getting to know our residents, their life stories and what was important to them. I also found it very rewarding to be a part of a team that was always striving to improve the quality of life for residents living in long-term care.
I saw opportunities to improve the care provided, in areas like palliative care and the care of residents with dementia. The Houses team has continuously implemented quality improvement initiatives. That’s my favourite part of medicine: improving people’s lives. And in transitioning into administration, my goal is to improve health care even beyond our walls.
What is the most gratifying aspect of your work?
There are so many. I’m moved and inspired every day. When I see a resident finding meaning and joy in her life. When we can give comfort and peace to a patient in palliative care, with their family beside them. When our very elderly patients, who haven’t been able to walk, or shower or dress on their own can – with great support from our team – sit up, get dressed, stand up and, finally, walk – that’s amazing.
I see miracles happen here.
Why does HUMANCARE mean to you?
Health care should be HUMANCARE. Health care is more than providing medical treatments. It is about connecting to patients on an emotional level, supporting their cultural, spiritual and physical needs. It’s about making them feel safe, respected and cared for. It’s about providing healthy food that is culturally diverse that our patients want to eat. It’s recognizing the full humanity of our patients.