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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The reality of life at the ‘coal-face’ in the lead-up to Aged Care Employee Day

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For Janine Ridley, Aged Care Employee Day (Sunday, August 8) is all about celebrating the innately noble characteristics within persons drawn to the industry.

“You have to be born and bred with a lot of things that they don’t train you at school,” she tells Aged Care News.

“We have empathy, we understand where residents are coming from.”

A PCA and lifestyle coordinator at Villa Maria Wantirna (VMCH) aged care facility for the last eight years, Ridley says that she is driven by the goal of making the unfamiliar environment of aged care as welcoming and comfortable as possible.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our job in lifestyle or in a carers position is knowing the resident,” she says.

… as long as you listen to every resident and as long as you start matching them up with similar, like-minded residents and staff, that’s when the walls start to come down, and it becomes more like a second family.

PCA and lifestyle coordinator, Janine Ridley

“When a resident arrives, I’ll go and introduce myself and then we ask about their background, the languages they speak, if they are married and how many children they’ve had, what occupation they’ve had.

“We have 96 residents, so that’s 96 backgrounds, behaviour patterns, tastes in food — everything.

“But as long as you listen to every resident and as long as you start matching them up with similar, like-minded residents and staff, that’s when the walls start to come down, and it becomes more like a second family.”

Ridley acknowledges the unique challenges faced by residents of each gender, advising carers to take note of these nuances in order to give the best person-centred care they can.

Women are forever giving; they are never receiving. So when a lot of older women come in here, they feel hopeless. But we explain to them ‘look at how many years of caring and nurturing you’ve done for your family’ so that they understand that it’s their time to be cared for.

Janine Ridley

“Women are forever giving; they are never receiving,” Ridley says.

“So when a lot of older women come in here, they feel hopeless.

“But we explain to them ‘look at how many years of caring and nurturing you’ve done for your family’ so that they understand that it’s their time to be cared for.”

Male residents, Ridley finds, are more likely to put up walls socially, taking more coaxing to engage in activities with other residents.

“Our women are social butterflies, but the men not so much.

“They tend to stick to their rooms … but it just depends on the nature of the events on the calendar, and comes back to really listening to what the residents want and developing activities around that.”

Pastoral care worker John, right, enjoys a chat with a resident of Wantirna’s Villa Maria aged care facility. Lifestyle manager Janine Ridley says that residents’ cultural background and religious preference inform activity and support plans.

Ridley’s activity planning is guided by resident ‘ambassadors’, which ensures the facility is providing opportunities that genuinely engages residents from all demographics.  

“Our calendar is all about the residents, and is a reflection of their interests … but it’s also a reflection of where they can grow and have a go at something they’ve never had the opportunity to participate in before.”

“For example, some of our residents haven’t painted for so long, or they’ve always wanted to but they’ve had kids, been married, and life just got in the way. So now they finally have that opportunity to grow.”

Teamwork and compassion key to keeping morale strong

“I love my job; I couldn’t be anywhere else, but I know a lot of people have left the industry,” Ridley says.

“It’s not easy, it really isn’t, especially during COVID: donning on and donning off [PPE], meeting the residents’ needs.

People have no idea how your shoulders hurt, how you sweat, the PPE: on, off, on, off for every resident. They’ve got no idea much you’re sleep deprived, you’re working night shift, working for 12 hours.

Janine Ridley

“It’s an unhealthy balance sometimes, juggling the residents’ needs and your needs, and our workers inevitably go above and beyond.”

Going above and beyond, in aged care, can often mean stretching one’s physical and emotional limits, according to Ridley.

“People have no idea how your shoulders hurt, how you sweat, the PPE: on, off, on, off for every resident,” she says.

“They’ve got no idea much you’re sleep deprived, you’re working night shift, working for 12 hours.

“You get home and you’re so tired but now you can’t sleep— and you really need to sleep because you’ve got to be back at work at 7am.

You get home and you’re so tired but now you can’t sleep— and you really need to sleep because you’ve got to be back at work at 7am. But you know what? You just do it because you’re needed — it’s all in.

Janine Ridley

“But you know what? You just do it because you’re needed — it’s all in.”

Ridley says that despite the immense strain at times, it’s the priceless relationships with her colleagues and residents that help her pull through and focus on the bright side.

“It’s not easy, but I know that the people who are in it are here for the right reasons.

“I couldn’t do this without my colleagues: there’s Deb, Jerry and Catherine, which are my lifestyle assistants, and then you’ve got all the girls on the floor.

“Everyone pulls together during the tough times. It’s just amazing.”

Janine Ridley (front) with her lifestyle team members Deb (back left) and Geri. Ridley says that it is the amazing people that work in aged care and the teamwork between them that makes the tough times surmountable.

Ridley says she is thankful for her manager Nikki, a strong but empathetic leader, which she explains is a key requisite for maintaining a healthy work environment amidst rolling health crises.

“I’ve never heard these words come out of a manager’s mouth before, but Nikki says: ‘be kind to yourself’.

I couldn’t do this without my colleagues: there’s Deb, Jerry and Catherine, which are my lifestyle assistants, and then you’ve got all the girls on the floor. Everyone pulls together during the tough times. It’s just amazing.

Janine Ridley

“’Whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, be kind to yourself. We can’t always do everything we want to because things get in the way.’”

This simple reminder was especially meaningful to Ridley, reminding her of some wisdom from her own grandmother.

“I said to my grandmother one day, ‘oh my God, I just wish life was normal’, and it was just on a steady line.

“And she said, being a nurse, that a steady line is when you don’t grow and you’re dying; you’ve flatlined.

“Life is up and down, and as long as you’ve got that up and down rhythm of life, that is how you grow, how you learn, how you engage with different people and develop different relationships.

“The ups and downs of life are no different than a heartbeat on a monitor.”

Life is up and down, and as long as you’ve got that up and down rhythm of life, that is how you grow, how you learn, how you engage with different people and develop different relationships. The ups and downs of life are no different than a heartbeat on a monitor.

Janine Ridley

In dealing with the ongoing challenges of working in aged care, Ridley also takes inspiration from her residents, who have been incredibly resilient during the precarious period of the COVID pandemic.

“They’ve been through wars. They’ve been through the depression. They’ve been through everything … and they are just so grateful for the little things.

“I think, for anyone working in aged care, it takes you back to how we should just engage and enjoy the simple things in life.”

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