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KOTM reunites families through elders’ visits

Thursday December 10, 2009
Jim Teskey and Gibbet Stevens take part in an Elders visit through KO Telemedicine.
-submitted photo

Elders and families who are separated by distance can now connect through KO Telemedicine.

The elders’ visits is “one of our biggest programs that we run,” said Heather Coulson, Project Development Co-ordinator for KO Telemedicine.

“It’s an idea that came from the Home and Community Care Program through KO,” said Gibbit Stevens, the Telemedicine Education co-ordinator in Balmertown. “It started in 2004 in five KO communities. Home and Community Care workers and personal support workers would bring Elders to the nursing station where the cameras and equipment were so that they could visit with family members in other communities.

“We know of one lady who had a brother in another community that she hadn’t seen in 16 years. They got to visit with each other and meet each other’s grandchildren.”

The program is a partnership between Home and Community Care and the Education program of KO Telehealth. Once a month, elders are brought to the nursing station for a two-hour visit starting at 9:30 a.m. The first half hour is the educational component, where a presenter will speak on topics ranging from elder abuse to medication issues. The remaining time is devoted to long-distance visits with families.

“Home and Community Care serve snacks,” Stevens said. We encourage different communities to sing songs and entertain each other and do some jigging. We’ve had people play fiddle and guitar. We’ve had a children’s choir from Keewaywin singing in the language.”

According to Marney Vermette, Nurse Supervisor for Home and Community Care with KO Health Services, “It’s a really good opportunity for family members in long-term care facilities to visit with their loved ones at home. I encourage people who have family members in long term care to participate.

“It’s really emotional to see. Everybody’s so happy to see their family member. We in the office try to sing something in Oji-Cree. Not that we all speak Oji-Cree or are musically gifted, but we do our best. We’ve had someone play the community drum. It just fills your heart with happiness to hear it.”

The program has grown from five communities in 2004 to 20. According to Stevens, the Christmas event is the most popular one.

“Other communities joined in over the years. Home and Community Care serve snacks. We also connect to the Elders’ homes that are located at Birchwood in Kenora and extended care in Sioux Lookout, because there are a lot of Elders who don’t get visits often.

“Nancy Muller, the regional telemedicine co-ordinator with KOTM, witnessed an Elder staying at Birchwood who hadn’t had much contact with family for years.

“The nurse who brought her to the hospital wasn’t sure if the Elder would be responsive, because she usually just sat in her wheelchair with her head down. The arrangement was made for the family to meet with her, and once they started saying her name and speaking to her in the language, she started slowly lifting her head and responding to the t.v. It was totally heart wrenching.

“During the events there are a lot of other people who get to see each other and visit with each other. In June and July we have a storytelling event with prizes, usually groceries. People try to outdo each other with their stories.

“We connect communities in the Sioux Lookout zone. There are other communities that are starting to join, such as the Thunder Bay and James Bay zones.

“We all know that the communities up north are so remote. This creates access to them.”

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