By Kathleen Thurber
Lorrell Yendall became a volunteer board member with Caregivers Alberta because she saw a serious lack of recognition for the knowledge and experience of family caregivers. In particular, she wanted to raise awareness in government that with the huge number of aging Albertans, we do not have the infrastructure either in our homes or in our facilities to care for them. Her journey in advocacy began with the challenges she encountered over the past four years while caring for her family.
Her first challenge was figuring out how to renovate her father’s home to accommodate his diminishing abilities as he aged. No contractor was willing to take on the small jobs she required. The gap between what was needed to keep her father in his home and the lack of resources available to do so, shocked her. In the end she turned to friends for help. In 2013, her father passed away and shortly after her mother Florence broke her leg. Then Lorrell’s daughter was seriously injured in a fire. Suddenly Lorrell had her mother, her daughter and her three-year old grandson to look after, in addition to her own life and career.
Lorrell ended up in the health care system from the stress. She took early retirement and devoted her time to helping her family heal. Just when everyone was back on track, and Lorrell had re-entered the work force, her mother had a massive stroke and went from being independent to totally dependent. Lorrell had knee surgery around the same time. “Because my mother was not terminal, I couldn’t take time off to look after her. The surgery allowed me to do all the arrangements without losing my income.”
Florence is now in long-term care and relies on Lorrell. It hasn’t been easy for either of them. “My experience is that the health care system is more concerned about vital statistics than the person behind the statistics. Lack of communication has caused more stress for me and my mother than is necessary. I realize staff have to care about the numbers but they have to care about the person more,” she says.
She gives an example of the impact of lack of communication. After her stroke, Florence was in the hospital for two months. Two days before she was transferred to the long-term care facility, she was taken off a thickened liquid diet and advanced to a regular liquid diet. This meant she could now have the coffee she loved. However, when she got to the facility, she was put back on the thickened liquid, because the documentation about the change in diet had not been noted. Both Florence and Lorrell were upset at the communication gap. “To a nurse it may seem unimportant but those little things are everything to a person in care.”
Lorrell sees the serious lack of family caregiver support as a critical issue for government and society. “Seniors in the near future will need to be cared for by their families, in the family home. There won’t be enough health care workers or facilities to manage the growing number of seniors in Alberta. That is my number one concern as far as the system is concerned.”
In her view, the two most important things needed to ensure good seniors’ care is financial aid and housing. That means “having a database of contractors who will outfit your home when needed. Having the family caregiver recognized as someone who needs an income. In this generation, it takes two incomes so if one of my daughters needs to quit her job to look after me, she will need to be paid. Those are the two things we are seriously lacking,” Lorrell says.
Lorrell believes the way we care for our seniors is too institutionalized. “In other areas of the world, the elderly are cared for with affordable housing developed in a community that is supported by some type of a healthcare system and not necessarily a conventional healthcare system. The system works as a family.” She urges decision-makers to look at how other countries do this. “We need to start paying attention because it’s coming at us at an incredible speed.”
“The family concept is going to be more relevant than ever before. Families and communities are going to be integral parts of our healthcare system,” she says.