Convalescence beds benefit locals

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Ruth Johnston spent two weeks in a convalescent care program at Pleasant Manor that helped her return home to live independently. Penny Coles/Niagara Advance

Ruth Johnston spent two weeks in a convalescent care program at Pleasant Manor that helped her return home to live independently. Penny Coles/Niagara Advance

When Virgil resident Ruth Johnston fell in September, she found herself in the St. Catharines General Hospital, unable to walk.


She had surgery, and after a few days of convalescence, thought she was being sent home to her apartment on Elden Street. It's in a section of the Pleasant Manor complex, for those still living independently.

And at 88, living on her own, Johnston is fierce about preserving her independence - she has just recently begun having lunch in the dining room, but only because she likes the company, she says, not because she can't make her own meal.

However, instead of going home, she first spent a few weeks in a convalescent care program in a wing of Heritage Place, Pleasant Manor's long term care home, with 24-hour nursing care.

it's a new program, intended to deliver short-term care - up to a maximum of 90 days - to patients who need recovery time from treatment at one of the other NHS hospitals, before being sent home. Johnston fit that description. She had moved into Pleasant Manor with her husband, but he passed away, and she was living alone when she fell.

The program is the result of a partnership with the NOTL family health team, with the involvement of the Niagara Health System and the Local Health Improvement Network (LHIN). Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) is also involved, helping to determine which patients are best-suited to use the available beds.

About a year ago, the 22 beds at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Hospital closed, and were relocated in other hospitals in the system. From the earliest days of the announcement of the NOTL hospital closure, almost three years before that, the loss of those beds for local patients was a chief concern, with transportation to other hospitals an issue for patients and family members.

To offer an alternative to NOTL patients, the partnership was forged with Pleasant Manor, a private, not-for-profit facility owned and operated by the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and the first six convalescent beds became available in September.

The program was set up to be phased in as the long-term care beds became available, said Tim Siemens, executive director of Pleasant Manor, with a goal of having the 12 beds for convalescent care within a year. It takes away beds from the 41 that were available for long-term care, but a study before the hospital closed determined that 12 beds were typically used for NOTL patients.

Since September, 14 individuals have used the convalescent beds, nine from NOTL, said Siemens.

"The program is going as planned," he said. "We're very grateful to our employees for providing great care and extending our home mission of serving with excellence, love and dignity in such a meaningful way."

Existing staff, including nurses, registered practical nurses and personal support workers, share responsibility for the patients, and some have received extra training to care for them, he said

Gayle Bussi is the new convalescent care co-ordinator, supervising the care to the patients, who require specific medical and therapeutic services to recover strength, energy and functioning before returning home to manage independently, with physiotherapy available onsite.

She's also part of a team of health care providers who assess patients and look at a range of options, choose what works best in each individual situation - other options include a more intense level of therapy, such as what is provided at Hotel Dieu Shaver Rehabilitation Centre, she said, or complex care beds in other hospitals, which is again a different level of care. Linhaven, which provides a range of services, including long-term care, also offers a convalescent program with 20 beds.

Although the beds at Pleasant Manor are intended for NOTL residents, it doesn't always work out that way - the beds go to whoever needs that particular kind of care, but it's a benefit to local patients when it does work for them, she said, as it was for Johnston, who spent two weeks in the convalescent care program - one of the shorter stays - receiving physiotherapy.

"That was a good transition for me. I wasn't suddenly left on my own, but I was half-way home."

She said the care she received there "was very helpful. I was well-looked after. I wasn't quite ready to go home. If I had been sent home, it would have been much harder. I prefer to be independent, and they helped get me there."



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