Safety risk to safe haven: How Karen help improve Elsa’s life at home

Karen Gerrard, Envigor’s Community Care Business Partner in Cairns, talks about how she is able to offer truly personalised care to her clients.

When it comes to care, Karen says that people deserve more than a tick box approach.

“Personal care should be just that – personal. It’s not just filling out a checklist of what people need, it’s providing exactly the right assistance when it’s needed, for as long as it’s needed,” says Karen.

“I love working for Envigor as we pride ourselves on taking the time to actually discuss care options to ensure that every client is able to make their own choices.”

Karen tells the story of how she was able to help a client get a new lease on life by listening to her needs and providing services to help her live safely and happily in her own home.

“I met a delightful, intelligent 85-year-old lady, ‘Elsa’, living alone in her old Queenslander home of 60 years. She lived here with her fluffy cat and aviary birds on a large double garden block,” says Karen.

“Members of her church referred Elsa to me to see if I could help her. They were concerned for her safety and wellbeing. She had no family in town who could help, although her sons cared for her deeply.

“Elsa’s beautiful old home was split level and was filled with a lifetime of treasures and memories. Unfortunately, these treasures also created a haven for spiders, cockroaches and other nasties. Elsa wasn’t worried that her back door couldn’t be locked – her screenless windows were always open to let in the breeze (and the cat). Elsa was very trusting. It didn’t occur to her that she was vulnerable.

“Elsa was having a tough time looking after herself at home. During my first visit, I saw that the shower was almost inaccessible and the toilet pan was broken. Fixing these areas was a priority for both me and Elsa.”

While Elsa’s two sons wanted to move her into a nursing home, Elsa wanted to stay living in her own home so Karen set about making that happen.

“When I visited Elsa, our first visit was more of a chat than an assessment. I quickly worked out that there were a few things we could do quickly to help her. Safety was a priority so the back-door lock was fixed and an emergency alert system installed. I also had the toilet pan replaced and had grab rails installed in the shower and toilet. I made an appointment for the occupational therapist to visit to assess Elsa for a walking aid.

“Elsa hadn’t been eating well so she agreed to have Meals on Wheels delivered. Lifestyle carers provided domestic assistance weekly, cleaning up the house room by room under Elsa’s watchful eye. She went out on shopping trips and just for coffee and cake with them. The final room was her bedroom which she had declined to have cleaned. After a couple of months, she finally told me why – her cat had started using the corner of the room as a toilet and she was too embarrassed to let the carers in to clean. After much reassurance, we blitzed the room and set up a kitty litter tray in the laundry.”

After helping Elsa set up her home, Karen says she received a call from Elsa to drop in for coffee.

“When I arrived, Elsa had set her coffee table up with a lace cloth and a vase of fresh roses from her garden. She had made coffee and served me a plate of her home-made biscuits.

“Elsa said that this was her way of saying thank you for making such a difference in her life. Elsa told me she loved the carers I sent to her and that they treated her with respect. She said she felt that we had really listened to what she wanted and that her home was now a safe haven for her.

“This story is just one of many that keeps me inspired and passionate about working in aged care.”

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