Category: Staff Profile
After five years of being with the on-call maintenance team, Matt Johnson knows how to spot the week’s theme, or sometimes even the day’s theme, for the on-call services at GEF Seniors Housing’s forty buildings throughout the city. He notes that after three or four similar calls, he can easily predict that many of the other calls for the week will follow a familiar pattern. He remembers one long night in particular where a few difficult calls flooded in.
“A fire line burst at Rosslyn Place and flooded down through the whole building,” remembers Johnson. “I was there for a few hours with the site managers and the fire department just trying to clean things up and get things back in good working order. I got home and about thirty minutes I got another call that Ansgar Villa had started flooding.”
GEF Seniors Housing’s on-call maintenance team sees the on-staff trades taking turns having their cell phones and pagers on hand in case of any emergency at the buildings. The 16 members of the team take weekly rotations where they’re responsible for the after-hours, holidays, and weekends when GEF Seniors Housing’s offices aren’t open. Maintenance Manager Tony Lovell started off with GEF Seniors Housing as an on-call tech around 26 years ago and remembers a very different working environment.
“There was only two of us on-call at that time, so it was basically one week on, one week off,” explains Lovell. “There were only around 20 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing managed, so it wasn’t like there were two of us looking after all forty buildings we have now. Still, it was fairly hectic and we had to learn how to prioritize projects pretty quick.”
Today, there are always two maintenance techs assigned to on-call. Lovell, along with Maintenance Administrator Doreen Kinney, start the year by assigning the on-call schedules, beginning first with prioritizing who’s looking after the Holiday Season. Johnson remembers this past holiday season being particularly hectic for the on-call staff because of the sudden cold snap that hit in December.
“I wasn’t assigned to on-call but I checked in and found a few places where I could lend a hand,” says Johnson. “The whole crew is really good for working together on both helping out when a lot of calls come in and even for the initial scheduling.”
Lovell points out that once the schedule is complete, he and Kinney post it up in the maintenance department at Central Services. It doesn’t take long for the team to get together and start moving around days, ensuring that they continue to have a good work-life balance.
“The schedule looks different pretty-well every day,” Lovell says with a laugh. “The crew is really good about working together on the scheduling, switching out dates for whatever might come up.”
The techs assigned to on-call work on any issue that might come up, even though they may have a specified trade. Johnson and Lovell are both plumbers by trade but have experience working on everything from the key system to electrical tasks and heating issues.
“I’ve always been really handy and I like having my fingers in a lot of different practices, so working on things outside of my trade is nothing new for me,” says Johnson. “Working on all kinds of different building issues still teaches me a lot. Everyone on the on-call team is prepared for pretty much anything.”
The way the actual call system works hasn’t changed much since Lovell first joined the team. When an emergency occurs, the tenant at the building calls GEF Seniors Housing’s answering service provider requesting assistance. The answering service provider system then sends a message to the GEF Seniors Housing staff tech’s pager (yes, pager) with contact information to the person who made the assistance call. Lovell points out that using pagers isn’t a result of not updating the technology within GEF Seniors Housing. It’s actually because of a lack of a more reliable option.
“A lot of our techs live outside of the city and a lot of the times they work in basement mechanical rooms, and all of this affects cell phone signals,” Lovell explains. “Pager signals are still quite a bit stronger than cell phone signals. This is why they’re still used by doctors. Surgeons and techs are the last professions still using pagers.”
For Johnson, working his week as the designated on-call always has its array of challenges. He stays motivated by remembering the people he serves and what his role is in making sure they’re living with a good quality of life.
“The people I work with are always very grateful when you get their heat working in the winter time,” says Johnson. “I’d be lying if I said that the decent extra bit on my paycheque isn’t a good reward for being on call. But I really do enjoy the people part of the job. I get to improve some part of a person’s life. And that’s what I do every time I go into a building. I look for ways to improve things and make things better for the people.”
Before Lisa Kutzner joined the GEF Seniors Housing team, she worked in visual presentation with multiple retail outlets including the Edmonton Eaton’s store. It was arranging furniture in those spaces that sparked her interest in completing her Residential Interiors certification with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension. And it was during her studies that she realized her passion for interior spaces for seniors.
“I wrote a marketing plan for aging in place during my studies and it opened a lot of interest for me in seniors housing,” says Kutzner. “The demand for seniors spaces was obvious. Keeping up with current design trends and the products on the market along with evaluating products and finishes that feel residential to our seniors yet are sustainable in commercial spaces brings new challenges every day.”
Kutzner’s approach to smaller spaces for seniors sees a mix of functional thought and aesthetic charm, both aspects to a good quality of life. She notes that, when she provides any kind of design assistance with GEF Seniors Housing, she tries to place herself in the position of a senior approaching the space.
“We try to think about how the space is going to be used, how many people are going to be in the space, what is best for circulation, so that it functions well for everyone concerned.”
A running philosophy for Kutzner as she looks at smaller individual spaces is that less is more. She points out that clear and concise spaces, coupled with good lighting and single textures, can trick the eye into making the space seem much bigger. She points out that cleaner and tidier spaces helps the eye to rest, which has been reported to reduce overall stress in a person. To help with developing clean and clear spaces, Kutzner looks to a growing trend popularly found in tiny homes.
Modular furniture (such as nesting side tables, dining tables with a fold down leaf, or storage beds) can function to both serve a purpose when it’s needed but also be easily stored when it’s not. The trend towards using modular furniture pieces is only increasing as population density issues become more pertinent in growing cities.
“People in Europe have been living in smaller spaces like this for years,” says Kutzner. “And part of that becoming the norm has been the use of modular furniture pieces.”
Kutzner acknowledges that trends in housing are going to continue moving towards smaller and simpler spaces. By living in smaller spaces, people reduce the amount of energy they use on a daily basis, resulting in both financial savings for the individual and an overall reduction in environmental impact. Part of living in a smaller space also means having fewer furniture pieces overall, which makes investing in better quality all the more feasible.
“I have always lived in smaller spaces and I invest in classic pieces that are of a well-made,” says Kutzner. “Because you don’t have so many spaces to fill, you can invest in better quality furniture pieces and have those pieces last a very long time. It’s those pieces that tend to never go out of style.”
Some design trends in small spaces don’t work for seniors living, such as floating shelves high above to increase storage. The added cleaning of the surfaces coupled with the risk of falling objects aren’t ideal for seniors living. What seniors can learn from the idea around higher shelving is thinking out the space better and seeing possibilities where they wouldn’t otherwise be. This can mean placing lighting higher up to leave storage space more accessible below. Planning spaces out better also means designating space for the tasks and activities that add to a person’s quality of life.
“If you have a smaller kitchen and you love baking, create an area on the counter and organize a section of the cabinetry specifically designated for baking,” says Kutzner. “Same goes for any other hobby or activity. Make sure you organize the space for it. It’s adding to a practice of making sure everything has a place. It adds to the space’s function, helps keep it livable, and contributes to a better flow when activities are easy.”
It’s often said that smaller space colours should be kept white or light. Kutzner explains that the space still needs to be personalized and to reflect the individual’s personality. This can be achieved through splashes of colour on accent walls or with accent pieces. Lighting remains especially important when it comes to making an aesthetically pleasing small space.
“With Canora Gardens, we were lucky that the building was built with such large windows before we had to renovate it,” says Kutzner. “We also keep in mind the need for privacy and black-out for sleeping, so we make sure to provide window treatments that work in the space.”
For Kutzner, the pride of working on so many new capital and renovation building projects comes when she gets to contribute a fingerprint on the project. With Sakaw Terrace, she’s part of the GEF Seniors Housing team that is working closely with Rockliff Pierzchajlo Kroman Architects Ltd. on the products and finishes within the suites, lodge rooms, and common areas, ensuring the most senior friendly environments that will appeal to residents and the staff.
“Raymond [Swonek] always has great ideas and feedback of what the suites and lodge rooms need to look like and how they should function if it is a brand new building,” says Kutzner. “We communicate this as a team and work from start to finish on these spaces. Being very engaged on the projects for me are very proud moments and are extremely rewarding.”
Stephanie Mahé holds six bags of yellow and orange ribbons, smiling at the hard work from the four residents at Ottewell Manor who volunteered their time and efforts for the ribbons that are a part of international World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. The residents at Ottewell Manor are no strangers to the struggles of mental health issues and Mahé explains that the residents are able to appreciate what these ribbons means on a more personal level.
“In four days, the resident volunteers made 520 ribbons,” Mahé says. “They really love ribbon making. It’s something that not only gets them out of their rooms, it also brings them together to work on something proactive and they can share their efforts with each other.”
In 2016, Mahé, her sister-in-law Elizabeth Turnbull (Edmonton based opera singer and University of Alberta voice instructor), and a group of their friends assembled a collection of Canada-wide concerts for international World Suicide Prevention Day, calling their events Mysterious Barricades Concert Society. The concerts, which included an eclectic mix of opera singers, drummers, jazz performers, quintets, choirs, and aboriginal performers, was livestreamed around the world. Quickly following the concert’s success came audiences and performers excited to for next year’s concert, something that the Mysterious Barricades Concert Society wasn’t sure was going to happen.
“Two and a half years ago, my brother died by suicide,” Mahé explains. “Mysterious Barricades was an event to try and help my sister-in-law [Turnbull] and me heal through music. With all the excitement around the event, we knew we had to keep it going.”
The event was named after Mahé’s brother’s favourite piece of music, “Les Barricades Mysterieuse” by François Couperin. Mahe explains that her brother was so moved by the composition that he actually built his own harpsichord a couple of years before his passing.
Last year’s concert saw 12 cities throughout Canada take part and stream free concerts as part of the awareness campaign to end the stigma around mental illness. This year’s concert will see 15 cities holding concerts, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, across to Victoria, British Columbia, with performers from notable performers such as Ontario based baritone Russell Braun and University of Victoria tenor Benjamin Butterfield. In all, the livestream will go on for 21 hours with performances starting at 2:00 a.m. Mountain Time, and all performance videos will be available on the Mysterious Barricades website for a week after World Suicide Prevention Day.
“The performers are all friends from the music community and they along with all the livestreaming technicians are volunteering their time for World Suicide Prevention Day,” says Mahé. “People kept reaching out, wanting to be a part of this event and the entire operation remains all volunteer based.”
The idea for Mahé to involve the residents at Ottewell Manor (where she works as an office supervisor) stemmed from two sources: the first being that the residents used to make ribbons for breast cancer awareness and were very disappointed when that volunteer program ended for them, and the second being the close connection between Mysterious Barricades and the mental health focus driving Ottewell Manor.
“There are people living here who were physical therapists, some have Master’s degrees,” says Mahé. “These are bright and intelligent people who have so much to give still and, just like my brother, mental illness took so much away from them.”
Mahé looks ahead to the future and sees what benefits international World Suicide Prevention Day and events like Mysterious Barricades can bring. Five years from now, she hopes to see a 24-hour staffed safe house open that can be available to people who struggle with mental illness on an emergency basis.
“A place like this will help show people struggling that they are not alone,” says Mahé. “People often spend evenings sitting in hospital hallways because they need help but hospitals are at capacity. Ottewell Manor has been lucky to have such a great relationship with Alberta Health Services, but not everyone is so lucky. By having these discussions and sharing these stories we can address mental illness more and work to end the stigma.”
This story was originally printed in the Edmonton Journal’s Today’s Senior section in partnerhsip with Post Media and the Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council on October 31, 2016, and in the winter 2016 edition of the Community Connections newsletter. A special big thank you to Loreen Wales from Revive Wellness and Imran Sumra from Our Parent’s Home for their help with this story.
When Chef Ana Maria Muhammad started her career with GEF Seniors Housing, she knew the kitchen at the lodge had a big responsibility.
“I quickly realized that this isn’t a restaurant, this is these seniors’ homes,” Muhammad says. She goes on to explain that she visually notices a huge difference in the people living in the lodge when the food is good. Since taking over the kitchen at Ottewell Place lodge, she’s opened up the lines to communication not just with the other staff but with the residents as well.
The idea of food playing directly into quality of life isn’t a novel concept. But the stigma around bad food in seniors’ homes is prevalent. So more chefs working in seniors environments are paying extra close attention to the food they serve and making sure they aren’t putting together menus in solitude.
Registered nutritionist and CEO of Revive Wellness Loreen Wales is excited to see this as a growing trend in seniors housing. She previously worked in a number of hospitals and explains that the food she saw being served to very sick people wasn’t going to do much for their health.
“People have a desire for that sense of empowerment and no one wants to feel like they’re being force-fed something,” Wales says. “Food is exciting! So much of our lives revolve around eating and the food we serve to people shouldn’t just be different components slopped together with no thought to taste.”
Wales explains that seniors are at a greater risk of malnutrition which can lead to a drop in immune-response and sarcopenia, a rapid loss of muscle mass in the body. She points out that seniors who eat better tend to live longer and don’t experience as many typical aging issues as quickly.
Chef Imran Sumra, Hospitality Manager at Our Parent’s Home in downtown Edmonton, prides his kitchen on fresh ingredients and quality meals for his menus. He holds both a Red Seal designation and a Diploma in Food and Nutrition Management and uses his wide knowledge base in his kitchen to create meals that follows closely the nutritional needs of seniors while still appealing to the residents’ palettes.
“A lot of seniors start to lose their appetites because of things like medications,” says Sumra. “So there has to be flavour and there has to be meals that they want to eat otherwise they simply won’t have that great quality of life we want them to have.”
Sumra’s focus on fresh ingredients plays both into how nutrients from herbs and vegetables are better absorbed into the body when they’re fresh but also the difference in quality. Our Parent’s Home’s kitchen boasts entrees from prime rib and steak to curries and lamb. For Sumra, he knows following budgets are important, but he will focus on quality over cost any day.
For Muhammed, opening up the lines of communication to the residents has meant she’s been able to expand the menu into working with some of the residents’ own home recipes while still working within the prescribed guidelines from the Canada Food Guide. GEF Seniors Housing works closely with Revive Wellness to review the menus and ensure that all the important points of nutrition are being met, while still making food that the residents are going to enjoy.
“I love that I get to keep learning about all these different foods,” Muhammed says. “The residents’ feedback helps make sure that everyone in the kitchen is always improving and getting better at what they do to make our residents happy.”
Muhammad’s passion for food easily translated into her work with seniors. “I just think about how much I love my parents,” she says. “And I look at the residents like they’re my parents too. What I serve from my kitchen, I would serve to my own parents.”