When we think of an elder moving into a long term care home, we often assume that they will stay in long term care until the end of their life. That’s how things used to be. But times have changed.

As one long term care home in Saskatoon has demonstrated, people can go home again after entering their doors; under the right circumstances, all it takes is involved family members, a caring, skilled staff who know the elders well, and access to community-based health and community services.

Central Haven Special Care Home

It is possible to leave long term care, if the conditions are right, as staff at Central Haven Special Care Home have shown a number of times in the past year.

Central Haven, a part of the Sherbrooke Community Centre family, is an Eden Alternative home. Their mission is to create a community that supports each person to live a full and abundant life.   They believe the community is a home where life revolves around close and continuing contact with plants, animals, and children. These relationships provide a pathway to a life worth living.

Two budgies in a cage, and a cat on a couch.

As an Eden Alternative long term care home, cats and birds also live at Central Haven.

“We try to focus on respecting Elder’s choices, and emphasize that we work in their home, as opposed to them living in our workplace,” said Jennifer Marin, assistant director of care at Central Haven.

After someone moves into Central Haven, staff look at that resident’s unique situation and his or her quality of life in the care home, and ask if long-term care is the best continuing option.

“We get to know people. And we realize that everyone does not benefit from what we have to offer.  If that is the case, we look at other options for them, and whether they could look at a different living situation,” said Central Haven Administrator Roberta Gallagher.

Because of this method, over the past year, some of Central Haven’s residents have been able to leave long-term care.

“It’s like a puzzle. If it all fits, if all the pieces are there, people can go home, or to another living arrangement. If one piece is missing, it doesn’t work,” said Dolores Campbell, Director of Care.

The other pieces of the puzzle include family and social support – vital to changing a living arrangement. Other elements include: staff who work to help people become more independent, the right living arrangements and community supports.

All of the elders who were able to leave the care home in the past year came to Central Haven because they had a medical crisis and were assessed in the hospital as needing long term care.  However, as their medical crisis was resolved, each showed adaptability, their independence increased, and other options started to open up for them.

While these elders were not able to go back to their previous living arrangements, they were able to leave long term care, going instead to live in enriched housing, assisted living, with a supportive spouse and access to day programs and other community services, or with family who were able to access direct client funding.

“All elders who left long term care had incredibly supportive families – that’s one big reason they were able to go home,” noted Gallagher.

While they are living at Central Haven, staff do whatever they can to ensure that family and community ties are maintained for each resident.

“None of the moves are easy or fast,” said Marin. It takes about two to four months from the initial talks about an elder’s situation to the individuals actually leaving the home.

“We really focus on what we can do to make people more independent,” said Marin. “It pays off in so many ways and these elders got to go home!”

“Our staff is amazing, none of this would be possible without their love and support of elders,” said Gallagher. “One of the things we focus on at Central Haven is encouraging elders to be as independent as possible – that it is healthier and better for their self-esteem so they are better able to maintain or even take back some of the things they were once able to do on their own,”  said Gallagher.

A very important difference at Central Haven is that care and service is elder-directed as opposed to elder-centred. This means that elders direct their own lives, and staff support them in their choices. Staff believe that changes in organizational culture have made it possible for them to move away from traditional ways of doing things, to focus on creating a human habitat where people can grow and thrive.

 Creating a human habitat means that care and support of the elders living in the home is the responsibility of everyone from the care aide, to food services, to maintenance, to nurses and housekeeping.  It is a team effort. Because of their philosophy, there is a level of trust that makes it possible for elders to test ideas and then work together with staff and families to find the right opportunities for each person.

“We are always looking to see what the unmet needs are,” noted Campbell.

“The majority of elders move into Central Haven after spending time in the hospital, in a medical model of care.  A long term care home is not a hospital, it is home, and the focus is completely different. We have time to not only assess, but reassess what is going on with each individual,” said Campbell.

“We have time to form relationships with our elders,” Marin explained.

“We’re looking at the whole person, their lives and connections, their needs and wants, not just their medical issues, which is what the acute care system is set up to do,” Campbell noted.

When people first come into long term care from the hospital, an improvement is generally made as they heal more completely.  It’s at this time that other options come to light and can be considered. The non-institutional environment at Central Haven is conducive to seeing if people would do better in their own home environment.

Central Haven isn’t the only success story like this in the Saskatoon Health Region. People in other homes have been able to leave long term care with the right supports in place.  What it boils down to is the individual situation of each person; if the elder wants to leave long term care and there is a plan in place for them to get the care they need, staff will do everything in the power to make it happen.