Tag: seniors housing edmonton
My career with GEF Seniors Housing began in November 2003 as a sous chef at one of the lodges. At the time I had no idea about GEF Seniors Housing, its vision, mission and values. I just needed a steady job and some work life balance. You see as a Chef working in the hospitality industry, work life balance was a distant dream at most times. Over the years working with GEF Seniors Housing, I have been fortunate enough to grow in my career with various positions.
My current role as a site Manager involves many dynamics. From assessing seniors for housing, working with a fantastic group of caring and dedicated staff, helping seniors to enhance their Quality of Life while they live in our buildings, dealing with the complexities and challenges of aging and seniors housing, every day at work is different and exciting.
GEF Seniors Housing relies on several partners which are part of the everyday job; some of these partners include home care, public health, family members, various Government and City licensing bodies and authorities, contractors, service providers, hospitals…..the list goes on. Each of these organizations has their own mandate and it can be challenging at times to see the common goal in enhancing the Quality of Life for our seniors and provide affordable housing.
How do we do it? The challenges that GEF, our seniors and myself face are many. However the one equation that never changes is the unwavering dedication, love, caring and compassion of my staff towards our seniors: it overcomes all hurdles and obstacles.
You might ask how, why? The answer is simple! Our staff feel that our residents are family and treat them as such. The culture at GEF is that of relationships, trust and caring, and not many things can go wrong when you have such a work environment. Our working days are filled with all kinds of entertainment, fun and surprises. We are always dressed to impress and we take our work very seriously. We can be strict when we have to be, but remember that spills happen every day!
I was very excited when the construction of Sakaw Terrace, a 158 unit self sustaining building with a mixed market housing model, was approved and I was chosen to manage it. This building will be unique in Alberta, where it will allow people of different income levels to live together and the money generated by the 30% of market lodge and apartment units will not require GEF to borrow any money from the Government or City to operate the building once the mortgage is paid off. In fact, it will create a surplus, which will help GEF build more affordable housing units. That is the future GEF is offering seniors. The progress of Sakaw Terrace is going well and we are ahead of schedule. We will be welcoming residents in Winter 2018 and everyone in the community, at GEF and myself are very excited!
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.”
Colleen Simpson started working with GEF Seniors Housing in 1994 and has worked at multiple sites all throughout the organization before landing at Cathedral Close, where she works as an Assistant Manager. One constant that she has noticed, right from her first position at the original McQueen Place, is that hoarding behaviour is prevalent in many seniors. While working at Central Services, former Director of Operations Greg Dewling suggested that Simpson join a group chaired by Sage Seniors Association looking at the problem of hoarding style behaviour.
In 2012, Simpson began working with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition, a group made up of representatives from non-profit community organizations and people with lived hoarding behaviour experiences. The group’s mission includes looking more into hoarding behaviour, recognizing gaps in services and funding, identifying supports for clients, pinpointing the roles of community partners, and researching the statistics for community presentations. As Simpson explains, much of the information needed to properly address hoarding behaviours is severely lacking.
“Much of the data we rely upon for our research is actual US based because the Canadian research simply doesn’t exist,” says Simpson. “Hoarding behaviour as a condition was only recognized in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. Much of the research and recognition of this as a disorder is new. Even the research in the US only started about 20 years ago.”
A few facts that are known about hoarding disorder are that older adults are three times more likely to experience the behaviour than younger adults, men are more likely to exhibit the symptoms where women are more likely to seek out help, and that hoarding tendencies begin between ages 11 and 15. As part of working with other agencies to gather data through surveys of reported cases, the group conducted a survey in 2016 that looked at 257 individual cases. The stats have been compiled into presentations for other organizations to help increase the awareness and knowledge of the issue. Though Simpson is proud of the work done in the surveys and being gathered by the Coalition, she also knows where the research falls short.
“The survey only covers reported cases of hoarding behaviour where individuals sought out help and accessed services,” says Simpson. “That leaves enormous gaps in unreported cases and cases where individuals didn’t seek help.”
Though there are other groups like the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition across Canada, Simpson points out that they are not consistent in other cities. She stresses that it’s going to be through the work of community focused groups that will spur more interest and better education around what constitutes hoarding disorders. Simpson explains that even some of her own assumptions from before her work with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition has led her to inaccurate assumptions.
“I’ve made the call to support services about a hoarding issue and once the workers arrive, they tell me that’s it’s not a hoarding situation,” says Simpson. “Hoarding disorder is so much more than just accumulating things. It’s a whole range of behaviours that when combined, build to dangerous situations.”
Dangers with hoarding situations in the home include blocking electrical outlets and heating vents which can lead to fire, piles of possessions toppling over causing injury, and blocking essential spaces like kitchens and washrooms. For seniors, the issue becomes more hazardous as many live with mobility restrictions and require mobility aids to get around their apartments. There are support services available such as Sage Seniors Association’s This Full House program, which sees outreach workers assisting seniors work through hoarding issues and maintain healthier living environments, but often times the call for an intervention comes much later than it should.
The Edmonton Hoarding Coalition’s goals include setting up a directory of services for people living with hoarding behaviours, even beyond decluttering and waste management. Simpson points out home trades such as plumbers and electricians often won’t work in homes where hoarding is occurring. Finding the services that can help a person while living in a hoarding situation will be key to ensuring they can continue living with a good quality of life.
For Simpson, some of the most important impacts that the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition has had for her are working to change her own attitudes and assumptions and enlightening her as to what to look for when she suspects someone is living with a hoarding disorder. Most important, though, is ensuring she remembers that who she is talking with is a human being.
“We don’t identify people as hoarders, people are not the condition that they are living with,” says Simpson. “Our seniors living with hoarding disorder, or any other condition that may need services and supports, deserve to live with a good quality of life. Without the right kind of data leading us in the best direction, it can be hard to know what are the best steps to take. We’re hoping that the work with the Edmonton Hoarding Coalition will establish that data set needed to increase awareness and work towards building a community that has a better understanding of how to help people living with hoarding disorder.”
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.”
Applications for Sakaw Terrace are officially open. This comes on the heels of a great deal of anticipation from both the community at large and from GEF Seniors Housing. CEO Raymond Swonek explains that he’s been eager for the applications to open to the public and begin the process for seniors to be able to call Sakaw Terrace home.
“Between the phone calls we receive here at the offices every day, the engagement we see on social media, and the excitement we’ve seen at the events promoting Sakaw Terrace, we know opening these applications couldn’t have come soon enough,” says Swonek. “The Mill Woods community has wanted a building like Sakaw Terrace for a long time and we’re going to deliver on a building for seniors that’s unlike anything else in the neighbourhood.”
GEF Seniors Housing staff will collect application forms over the next three months, compiling a list of all the qualified applicants. On May 8, 2018, a lottery draw will be held at the Mill Woods Seniors Association (second floor, 2610 Hewes Way, Edmonton) to determine who will be first to be interviewed. For previous building openings, GEF Seniors Housing has used the lottery system for applicants as a means of making sure the entire process is fair to everyone involved.
“The building has 158 suites and we’re expecting many more applications than that over the next three months,” says Swonek. “With such a huge demand for the building, we want to ensure that everyone who applies has an equal chance of being able to move in once the building opens.”
After the applicants are chosen from the lottery, they’ll be scheduled for an in-person interview followed by a letter either accepting or declining the application.
GEF Seniors Housing will be handling all applications for Sakaw Terrace’s early 2019 opening for both the lodge and the apartment programs. Applications and the brochure explaining Sakaw Terrace’s housing programs will be available at all GEF Seniors lodge sites and at the Mill Woods Seniors Association, where members of the GEF Seniors Housing team will be available on a few select dates in February over the noon hour to answer questions and accept applications.
For Sakaw Terrace, it’s more important than ever to have the knowledgeable GEF Seniors Housing staff available to go over the new housing programs available.
“Sakaw Terrace will be the first GEF Seniors Housing building to offer market level apartments and lodges to seniors at any income level,” explains Swonek. “We’re still offering affordable options as well to qualified seniors. Having both market level and affordable options is important because we want Sakaw Terrace to be available to as many seniors as possible.”
The building team led by Chandos Construction continues to make huge strides on the Sakaw Terrace project. With the construction team working so closely with GEF Seniors Housing, the scheduling and the budgeting for the building can be kept in close check, ensuring Sakaw Terrace is completed on time and on budget. Swonek is exhilarated with the progress made on Sakaw Terrace in such a short time and is proud of how well GEF Seniors Housing has worked with the construction team.
“The Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) model used for Sakaw Terrace pushed everyone, from the architects to the sub-contractors, to work as efficiently as possible without sacrificing any quality,” says Swonek. “All 900 people who have worked on Sakaw Terrace have done an amazing job on this building so far and I know Sakaw Terrace will set a new standard not just for GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings, but for seniors housing buildings all over Alberta.”